Our health and the way we define health varies wildly from person to person, which is why it can feel so hard to pin down the true meaning of being “healthy” and “in shape” when it comes to understanding our own fitness.
Starting a fitness program can be one of the most beneficial and daunting things we do in our lives. We all know that our health is one of the most important things we have, and without it, our quality of life will be dramatically reduced.
Unfortunately, it often takes a bit of wake-up call to get us to the point where we’re ready to start considering what that change is going to look like. For some of us, that could be a health scare like high blood pressure or diabetes, a frank conversation with a doctor, or a hard look at the scale.
For many moms, that moment comes post-partum when they realize their body did not return to its original state after the birth of their child.
Giving birth to a child is an incredibly taxing experience of the human body. In fact, it has been found that giving birth is harder than running a marathon! Remembering this is key when it comes to learning to appreciate and accept what your body did for you and for your child. But understanding that your body may never be the same as it was before pregnancy doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your best level of health and fitness.
How to assess your fitness level
In general, you probably have some idea of how fit you are, but a true fitness assessment will show you exactly where you stand and where your starting point should be. In general, a fitness assessment will be a short workout with a series of aerobic and muscular exercises, after which you will make notes on how fast you were/how many you completed.
In general, this is what a fitness assessment will look like:
- Take your pulse and then walk 1 mile. Then take your pulse immediately afterward and note both numbers.
- How long it takes you to walk that mile, and (if you can) how long it takes to run 1.5 miles.
- How many crunches, standard pushups, or modified pushups you can do in a row.
- How far forward you can reach when sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you.
- Your body mass index and your waist circumference
Once you have a baseline to start from, you can begin your journey to better fitness.
How to tackle a health and fitness plan
Once you have taken the steps to get a baseline for your fitness, it’s time to start thinking of your goals and how you’re going to get there. It’s all well and good to fantasize about what you’re going to do when you finally reach your goal weight, but the key to getting to that point is creating a plan and sticking to it.
1. Know you’re why
Like anything in your life, you need to know why you want to improve your fitness. Every mission or goal you have starts with a reason, and your fitness is no different. Without understanding why you’re starting this journey, you’re much more likely to fail.
Keep in mind; your reason has to have depth. It can’t be as simple as: “I want to look like people in magazines”. Instead, you have to ask yourself why you want to look that way and what overall benefit it will give you.
Do you want to get healthier so that you can go running with your dog? So you can feel more confident in your looks and in your relationship? Do you want to be around longer for your kids? Your why has to have enough gravitas that it will be worth sacrificing small pleasures for, like junk food, too much TV time, and office treats).
2. Integrate it into your life
Grand plans about how much you’re going to exercise are great, but you have to be realistic about fitting your fitness plans into your life. Whether you’re juggling meetings, kids, or unexpected obligations, mapping out the time you’ll have in our week to work out is what can really help you achieve your goals.
Give yourself a helping hand here by creating a general calendar that tracks most of what you do in a week. Start with your full-time job (since that won’t change) and then add what times you usually wake up and go to sleep, your commute time, and other obligations you have throughout the week.
Once you have a solid schedule jotted down, start calculating when you can fit in working out. Don’t expect things to go perfectly smoothly for the first couple of weeks and don’t give up if you miss a few workouts. Just keep at it!
3. Sleep as you train
When people start a workout regime, they often focus too much on physical exercise and too little on the incredible value of sleep. Sleep allows you to recover from workouts, burn calories more effectively, and even allows you to make better and smarter food choices.
Proper sleep habits also play a huge role in healthy brain function and emotional wellbeing. While you sleep, your brain is able to process information and flush toxins. A good night’s sleep will allow you to wake up feeling happier, healthier, and more confident overall. It will help keep you motivated about your workouts, allow your muscles proper recovery time, and give you faster results from your workouts.
When you start focusing on your overall wellness, make time for sleep like you make time for the gym to see the most of your results.
4. Intensity over duration
Don’t get caught up in how long you’re at the gym or how many hours you exercise per week, instead focus on the intensity on your workout. In fitness, it’s all about quality over quantity. Each week, you should aim to increase your intensity or exercise or the amount of weight you’re lifting so that your body doesn’t acclimatize to your workout.
If you’re running short on time, focus on compound exercises that target your largest muscles, like your glutes, quads, and biceps. Squat thrusts, glute bridges, and hammer curls all work more muscles than isolation movements and will burn more calories.
If it’s a cardio day, HIIT workouts or TABATA workouts produce incredible results in a very short amount of time. These no-equipment workouts are fast, intense, and have been shown to be more effective than most other types of exercise.
If you find yourself struggling to create a workout routine that is giving you the intensity you want, joining a gym with personal training available will give you the chance to work with an expert who can build the most effective workout for your body.
5. Watch your food
When it comes to your health, your food choices are what dictate what your body will look like. While your exercise is important for caloric burn and muscle definition, your food choices will let your exercise results truly show through.
The basic premise of weight loss is calories in and calories out. To lose weight, you have to run a calorie deficit. Unfortunately, you can consume calories much faster than you burn them. For example, if you were to have two slices of pepperoni pizza at a caloric intake of about 560 calories, it would take you about 65 minutes of moderate cycling to burn that back off.
While your basal metabolic rate does require a certain amount of caloric burn for your body to function during the day, you can quickly double or triple the number of calories you actually need with not being careful with food choices.
6. Something is better than nothing
There will be days when you’re exhausted and when work ran late and you just won’t have the time or energy to hit the gym. There will be nights when you didn’t have time to grocery shop and will stop off to pick up something pre-made or when you slip up on your diet.
Remembering that you’re only human and that you will have good days and bad days are key to succeeding with your health and fitness. Don’t get down on yourself and get discouraged and quit on your goals because you had one off day. A slip up here and there won’t ruin your fitness goals.
7. Change isn’t linear
When you’re on a path to health and wellness, you have to remember that change isn’t linear. You may see your weight fluctuate and your body changes on your path to wellness and that’s perfectly normal. Weight loss and fitness are not a one-size-fits-all solution and understanding that is the way you’re going to succeed with your goals. Just like how you will have off days, knowing that–as long as you keep up the hard work–you are bettering yourself and continuing to move toward your fitness goals.