When most people talk about their desire to “get in shape,” their approach consists of major, if somewhat subconscious, visual elements. The first thought in the mind of most goes to weight loss because the visual effects of getting out of shape are what we see.  

And what we see is either more inches around our waists than we used to see or desire for others to see. This fosters the idea that if we lose weight then, by default, we will somehow magically become healthy. And although weight loss is often a component of the journey to better health, it isn’t always the case. This is the reason most “fad” diets fail; we suffer and deprive ourselves, and we might look “better” from a certain aesthetic point of view, but ultimately, we don’t feel better.

What people, including a lot of “health influencers,” won’t tell you is that, in spite of their connection, weight loss and health are two different things. And because they are two different things, we need to think of them in two entirely different ways.

Losing weight can be accomplished by simply reducing the calories we consume, but if we just stop eating then we don’t get the nutrients we need to survive. This is sort of like determining to drive 100 miles in your vehicle but refusing to buy fuel. You may have fuel in your tank, but it probably isn't enough to get you where you want to go.

Conversely, getting a proper amount of exercise will improve your health, but if your diet isn’t changed then the appearance of your health gains might not “show” at all. The trick then, if there is one, is to expect each of the two — diet and exercise — to do its own part.

But a lot of this is getting the horse before the cart. Concerning ourselves with types of exercise such as Pilates or planking, or worrying about macronutrients and the whole carb, protein and fat equation, are a lot like planning our first road trip before we learn to drive or get a car. They are important things we need to learn, but we can’t focus on the finish line before the race begins. A long-term fitness goal is extremely useful, but by focusing on short-term goals in the beginning we can learn how to make a more practical and achievable ultimate goal.

So, let’s start simple, and put Step 1 first; we need to stop thinking in visual terms. Way back when I was a young man, the fitness craze was upon us. People would rush out and buy workout gear and videos, use them for less than a month, then get disappointed that their “Buns of Steel” was not the talk of the town. And this brings us to Step 2; stop worrying about what other people think. Seriously, your back doesn’t hurt when I bend over to pick something up off the floor — but mine definitely does. Never plan fitness goals around other people unless it is to be able to become more active a part of the lives of loved ones. And then of course, there is Step 3 ... take a few steps.

Long before we envision ourselves running marathons, showing off abs or even the notorious “swimsuit season,” we need to test drive our own bodies to see what they can do. So, try something most of us do to one degree or another, which is simply walk.

Take a few steps, then take a few more. It doesn’t matter whether those steps are fast or slow either — or even how many you can take consecutively. Because if you keep going; fast, slow, or with multiple pauses in between; there will be changes to the way you feel. If it has been a while (like in my case) the first thing you are going to notice is a whole lot of soreness. But unless it is actual pain, try to ignore that soreness because the other changes are a little more subtle at first.

Remember the old song that went “the foot bone’s connected to the ... ?” Well, everything in your body is connected to everything else. Taking even a few steps will affect those abs and back muscles because while you are walking, they are holding you upright. When we move even a little our heart rate increases to provide more blood flow, and our lungs expand larger to provide more air. So, taking even a few steps is working toward improving muscle tone, breathing and heart function. A few more steps are even more improvement; and a lot of steps, well, you get the idea.

Don’t even think about the “ultimate goal” at first, just focus on how your body is feeling. Walking is an excellent form of exercise that we can control, and we can regulate the amount of impact it has on joints, tendons and other parts of our bodies. And the beauty of it is, we don’t need equipment, supplements, or even flashy gym clothes (unless we want them) to make use of a good walk.

We can wear normal clothes and even walk around our yards if we want to. And by the time we become comfortable with walking, when our lungs have improved and our hearts are a little stronger, then we can decide what other things would be useful while we stroll toward better health. Or we can just keep walking.

Reach CHARLES ROMANS at cromans@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2655.

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