Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Making fitness a priority through changing life circumstances

I was recently asked by my running friend Sharon: "How do I re-make fitness a priority when my priorities are so different now?" I thought this was a great question, worthy of a blog post.

We all experience setbacks, injuries, periods of inactivity - and changing life circumstances. Fitness, training and health goals may take a backseat when other things come to the forefront - like jobs, changing family dynamics and other things. My running journey began in 2007, and life has thrown me a fair share of curveballs - some of the great, others less than great. I have had the experience of returning to training after a hiatus several times, and here are some thoughts about how to make that transition more successful.

Before I get there, though - I'd like to take a moment to think about why returns to fitness can be so hard:
  • Change in bandwidth: When returning to training after a life change, sometimes there just isn't as much time (or money) to devote to training.
  • Change in abilities: Sometimes changes in life circumstances produce a corresponding change in our physical abilities. This could certainly the case for new moms. I experienced this when I had to take a long hiatus from training due to a heart condition. After multiple surgeries, I was able to return to training, but had to respect the limitations that my newly repaired heart placed on me.
  • Change in priorities: Often times, we take a hiatus from training due to a change in life circumstances. When we are ready to return to training, it might not be as important to us as it was in the past. This is OK, and this is normal. The key is to understand where running fits relative to our other obligations in order to prevent a misalignment between what we want to accomplish, and the work we are prepared to put in towards those goals.
Here are some ways that I dealt with each of these issues:
  • Set reasonable goals, tailored to what you can do today: The key to success here is honesty. Take a hard look at your current situation, and come up with realistic goals that are tailored to what you can do today. Resetting expectations, and letting go of old benchmarks can be difficult to do, but comparing your current self to your former accomplishments could lead to frustration so great that it will keep you from getting started. You may return to your former level of athletic abilities, but don't use that as a starting goal when returning to training.
  • Overcome the initial inertia: There are a few things that will make re-starting a training program difficult. For me, it was the frustration of my new fitness baseline. By focusing on what I accomplished (rather than how I fell short of my previous results) I attempted to remain positive and continued to make progress. 
  • Be patient, be persistent and the results will come: I drew a lot of strength from my experiences as a beginning runner. I recalled how quickly I gained fitness, and how quickly I lost weight, and how quickly I progressed as a runner. For me, returning to a level of fitness was always quicker than obtaining that level of fitness in the first place. Use your previous fitness levels as a motivator when exercising, not as a yardstick to measure your current levels.
  • Planning, planning and more planning: It is amazing how easy it is to free up time when you need to. When my family situation changed abruptly, I was amazed how easy it was to assume the additional family responsibilities that were placed upon me. Life is like a rubber band. You might think that you are stretched to capacity - sometimes it just takes a little tug on the rubber band to realize that there's slack there, and room for a little more.
Finally, it is important to carve out the time to do your workouts. There were several techniques that I employed here:
  • Put workouts on your schedule, just like you put other "obligations" 
  • Enlist the help of others (both as accountability partners, and as a "support team" (childcare, supportive spouse, etc) 
  • Treat your training as a LEGITIMATE PHYSICAL NECESSITY rather than a "want" or "luxury". Often times we de-prioritize training because we minimize the extent to which it is truly necessary. The health rewards of an active lifestyle are great, and worth prioritizing in life. 
The rewards are there for the taking - all it takes is the desire to earn them, and the ability to put one foot in front of the other - day in and day out.  Best of luck with your training in 2015!

1 comment:

Abbe Lew said...

Love this. Happiest of training to you, my friend!