30 days to 40—Lesson 4: Stay Active
Stay active, in body and mind. It’s the best thing I’ve ever learned.
Keep moving, keep challenging yourself, because the moment you stop is the moment you stop learning and evolving. And you know what happens after that? Nothing.
But what happens when you do stay active, and push yourself a little? Maybe you get a degree and a career you love. You learn a new language or skills that enable you to do things you never thought possible. You are leaner, sleeker, stronger. You feel good when you look in the mirror. Your clothes fit better. You stand taller. You’re healthier—and happier—inside and out.
No pain, no gain, right?
There’s a lot of truth in that saying. When it comes to being fit and toned, there is no two ways about it: it requires dedication, discipline, and a whole lotta sweat. Staying active—walking, lifting weights, doing yoga or pilates, or all of the above—isn’t just the key to a healthy body. I’m convinced it’s everyone’s personal fountain of youth. Nothing radiates youth and vigor like a taut body, and a lean bod makes everything you wear look better. Any physical activity has its benefits, but I personally believe that lifting weights is something everyone should do, not for how it makes you look, but for the myriad positive effects it has on your body.
I’ve always been a fairly active person, but when I hit the gym five years ago to combat muscle atrophy in my permanently-separated left shoulder (the result of a car accident at age 15), I finally discovered the truth about fitness and watching what you eat: you can’t do one without the other. You might think you’re accomplishing something by focusing on one, and you may well see results. But trust me, the truth will eventually catch up. You have to move it, and you have to watch what you eat, especially as you hit your mid-to-late 30s. Otherwise, you end up skinny-flabby, or just plain flabby—and let’s not even get started on the lack of cardiovascular strength when you aren’t getting that heart rate up regularly. It makes hoofing it across a ginormous airport feel like you’re running a marathon.
The other thing I discovered when I employed the help of a personal trainer and committed to at least three weight training sessions a week? That I’m stronger, fitter, and more toned than I ever was in my 20s, when I focused on dieting alone.
And that airport sprint? Piece o’ cake.
My Workout Essentials
The image speaks for itself, but I do want to note how in love I am with every Athleta piece I’ve ever purchased. They really are sweat-wicking and made to move with your body—comfy, functional, and stylish. And the site has a killer return policy.
My second go-to for workout clothing is Adidas, and I always wear Nike Shox (I don’t run, so they’re great for training and walking).
In the gym, I don’t go a week without using a physio/stability ball and Bosu ball…they’re essential for ab-ripping exercises. My new favorite piece of training gear is the TRX Suspension Trainer (that yellow and black strappy thing above). My trainer is introducing me to more exercises using the TRX, and I plan on picking up my own very soon. Good stuff!
My Fitness Regimen + Tips for Staying Active
1. Accept that there is no easy way, no magic pill or potion.
The sooner you accept that you have to work at being fit, the better off you are. Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight is simple math: you can’t eat more calories than your body needs to function. If you do, you gain weight. And losing weight quickly is generally a temporary thing. To lose and maintain, to convert fat to lean mass and muscle, you have to work out, multiple times a week. And the weight shifts slowly. There is no way around it.
2. Hire a personal trainer if you can.
I realize that this may not be a physical or financial possibility for a lot of people. But if you can hire a good trainer, trust me when I say it’s worth every penny. I recently started seeing my trainer again after a couple years of working out on my own, and I am still amazed that after dozens and dozens of sessions, I still pick up a new circuit or move every time I see her. A properly certified trainer can create balanced routines, keep you motivated, and help you stay active even when faced with an injury.
3. HIT THE WEIGHTS at least three times a week!
I’m not talking about going into the gym for half an hour and coming out pristine. Get in there and sweat! I’ve always said, if you’re not sweating, you’re not working! Ladies, think lifting will make you “bulk up”? Think cardio alone or yoga is better? I implore you…please read 8 Reasons Why You Should Lift Heavier Weights. It gives you the truth about weight lifting, in plain, easy-to-read English. And as someone who actually went through training to teach yoga and had a decent practice for a few years, I will tell you nothing tightened up my body like weight lifting has, and nothing wrecked my knees like yoga did. Anyway.
4. Keep your body guessing with interval training.
I’ve found that circuit or interval training—a combination of resistance training and high-intensity cardio exercise, with little-to-no rest in between—is the best way to sculpt your body and improve your cardiovascular health. It’s also a superb way to prevent boredom in the gym. Circuits are usually a group of 3-4 exercises, with 10-20 reps performed for each exercise.
For example, this is a single circuit:
- Reverse lunges (10 each side) with 55-lb. barbell on shoulders
- Plié squats (16) with 55-lb. barbell on shoulders
- Side bends (16 each side) with 30-lb. kettle bell
I don’t have a “set” group of circuits/intervals I do every week…I’m constantly switching up exercises, which is another way to ensure your body is always getting the most from your time in the gym.
My typical week of activity includes a 40-minute walk almost daily, plus:
- Day 1: Four 10-minute circuits of lower body weights + ab exercises, with 5-minute (high-intensity) intervals on the stairmaster/stepmill or elliptical in between circuits. (60 minutes total)
- Day 2: Four 10-minute circuits of upper body weights + ab exercises, with 5-minute (high-intensity) intervals on the stairmaster/stepmill or elliptical in between circuits. (60 minutes total)
- Day 3: 60-minute circuit training session as designed by my trainer (no stairs or cardio equipment on that day).
- Days 4-6: Repeat above.
What exercises am I doing? A gazillion of them…but mostly a lot of split squats, lunges, extensions, bicep curls, rollouts, and deadlifts. Many of them are included in this list of circuit training workouts. If you want to know more, just Google.
5. Use apps to stay on track.
You use them for everything else, right? Your smartphone is a wealth of information and helpful little programs that make it easy to track what you eat or how many calories you burned on that last walk. These are a couple I use regularly:
- My Fitness Pal–The easy way to calculate how many calories a day you should consume to lose, gain, or maintain weight. It will change the way you view your diet and nutrition if you commit to tracking everything you eat; suddenly a 400-calorie muffin (that takes two hours of activity to burn off) doesn’t seem quite worth it. Bonus: MFP has a Web interface as well as a handy phone app, and they sync automatically.
- Runtastic–Track virtually any exercise from every angle…calories burned, distance, time, average pace, and more. You can also use other apps on your phone (like music) while Runtastic, er, runs in the background. So smart and really fun to use.
6. Walk, walk, walk!
There are so many reasons to take a brisk walk daily:
- Walking is excellent for you, low-impact, and free!
- You burn calories.
- You connect with nature and de-stress.
- Because you never know what tomorrow may bring.
I have a cousin who has been paralyzed from the waist down since he was 16. When I spent time with him as a teen, I got a first-hand view of what life is like when you are confined to a wheelchair. He never complained, and never let it inhibit him…I was so inspired by that. I decided then that as long as my legs worked, I would NEVER take them for granted. That means I walk as much as possible, because I’m sure everyone who is confined to a hospital bed, fighting a horrible disease, or disabled would give anything to take a simple walk in the fresh air and feel good.
I’m fortunate that I have a few shopping centers within walking distance of my home. If I want a bottle of wine for dinner, or need to make an ATM deposit, or pick up some groceries, Hubby and I often complete these errands on foot. It gives us time to connect, aside from all the other benefits I listed above. Even when we’ve gotten caught in the rain, we always feel better returning home than we did when we left.
What do you do for mind/body fitness? Read the rest of my 30 Days to 40 series >>