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The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Healthy and Fit

First of all, being healthy and fit is not just a physical thing.  I would go so far as to say that it all begins as a state of mind.  You just can’t be healthy and fit in the truest sense if your mind is in disarray.

Sure, you can look healthy and fit while still having a poor mindset, but that doesn’t mean that you are healthy and fit.

So what exactly does it mean to be healthy and fit?  Well, I like to keep it simple so let’s take a look at some dictionary definitions:

Healthy: Showing physical, mental or emotional well-being : Enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit

Fit: Sound physically and mentally : Made Ready : Adapted to the environment so as to be capable of surviving

MERRiAM-WEBSTER

Both of these definitions mention the mental and the physical.  And while I believe it can mean one, the other, or both, the former should always be the top priority.

Of course, this is just my opinion but I believe first focusing on mental (including emotional and spiritual) health and fitness leads to longer lasting health and fitness in the physical realm.

People get started on health and fitness journeys all the time only to burnout after a brief period.  They really have a desire to improve their health and fitness, but aren’t mentally or emotionally prepared. 

People aren’t fully invested in it for the long haul.  They want quick hit health tips and fitness tips that require a short burst of hard work but will somehow produce lasting results.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.  Anything that is achieved in a hurry can usually be lost just as quickly.  Health and fitness are no exception.

This is a complete guide so I’ll do my best to really dig into both the mental and physical side, but keep in mind that things are ordered for a reason.  

If you jump right into the physical stuff you might be missing out on what you need most.

Thinking Healthy 

So what does thinking healthy have to do with improving your health and fitness?  In my opinion, absolutely everything.

Okay then, so what is thinking healthy?  The short answer is thinking in a way that promotes mental, physical, or emotional well being (remember the definition of healthy?)

You could say that sounds a lot like positive thinking, and it is to an extent.  The difference is that thinking healthy (or healthy thinking or thinking in a healthy way), is not the opposite of negative thinking.

Thinking healthy is more about a positive response to whatever kind of thoughts you have or circumstances you experience.

Sometimes positive thinking can be associated with pretending, telling yourself lies, or not facing reality.  Or to use a metaphor, acting as if your lawn is perfectly green when there are weeds everywhere.

Thinking healthy or healthy thinking involves facing reality and recognizing what is within your control to change.  Then taking the courageous step to make those changes.

Forward Thinking

One of my favorite quotes about forward thinking is this:

“You can live out of your imagination rather than your memory”

Tony Robbins

I don’t believe Tony Robbins is the first person to ever say that.  Stephen Covey actually mentions living out of your imagination, not your history in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective people. (one of my all-time favorites by the way)

I just like the word memory a little better for some reason.

When we think of health and fitness, it’s all too common to think about what we haven’t been able to do.

We, consciously or unconsciously, remember the times we failed far more often than when we have succeeded.  This goes well beyond health and fitness goals too.

Some of us may not even have any successes to think of when it comes to health and fitness.  That’s when living out of your imagination rather than your memory is so important.

If you have a great track record with health and fitness, by all means live out of your memory.  Whatever you’re doing is clearly working.  I would question why you’re poking around on this page, but that’s none of my business.

Anyway, just because you have never been able to get fit or have never lived a healthy lifestyle, doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

Eliminate Excuses

  • I don’t have time to workout. 
  • Eating healthy is too expensive. 
  • I’m just big boned. 
  • Healthy meals take too long to make. 
  • I just have a slow metabolism.

The list of excuses for not being healthy and fit goes on and on.  

You have to come to the realization that there isn’t anything outside of you that is preventing you from being healthy and fit.  Whatever is preventing you is within you.

Healthy isn’t synonymous with skinny and fit doesn’t mean you have to compete in cross-fit tournaments or be a body builder.

You have to decide what healthy and fit means for you and then figure out how to make it happen.

You individual journey isn’t going to be the same as someone else’s.  You might want to lose 15 pounds and decrease your body fat 5 percentage points over six months. 

Someone else might have a goal to lose 30 pounds and have six pack abs in two months.

Both are possible, but the actions needed to get there aren’t the same.  One is going to require more effort over a short period of time.  The other is going to require more consistency.

You have to be real with yourself and realize what you’re willing to do and what you’re not willing to do.  Face reality.  Don’t set yourself up to fail and then make excuses after the fact.

Set yourself up to win and then celebrate your success.

Determine your goal and figure out what it will take to achieve it.  Depending on your situation it might take longer than you initially anticipated. 

Once you know what you must do and make solid plans to do it, there is no room for excuses.

Imagine your journey and think about the times when it is going to get hard.  Imagine what excuses you might use in certain situations and plan ahead for what you will do in those situations.

Every Win Counts

Even when you reach a certain goal in your health and fitness journey, you’re never completely done.

Once you reach your goal, there’s still maintenance to be done otherwise you’ll end up back where you started.

Sometimes maintaining what you have achieved can be even harder than the initial achievement.  Especially if you reach your goal before you’ve truly internalized your new behaviors as habits.

That’s why it’s important to celebrate all of the wins, small and large.

This allows you to stay motivated to continue with healthy behaviors on the way to your goal and beyond.

It’s nearly impossible to stay motivated when you only focus on the end result and don’t celebrate accomplishments along the way.

This is especially true in the beginning when the big goal seems so far away.

Expect Obstacles and Setbacks

Failures with health and fitness, among other things, often start with expectations.  We expect it to be smooth sailing from beginning to end, and we quit when it isn’t.

When you expect obstacles and setbacks, you can move past them quicker.  

Expecting them allows you to experience them as what they truly are, temporary annoyances that must be dealt with.

Having an expectation that nothing will go wrong causes you to experience setbacks as complete failures.  When you feel like you’ve failed, there is no reason to continue.

Think about it this way, if you got one flat tire would you get rid of your entire car? Probably not. You would figure out a way to repair or replace the tire and get moving again.

It’s the same with mental obstacles and setbacks. You have to learn to fix and replace things that aren’t working rather than giving up on the mission.

Many times, setbacks and obstacles can be self inflicted. Our existing habits are more powerful than the changes we are trying to make.

It’s easy to slip up and not even realize it’s happening until after the fact.  That’s where being mindful comes into play and we’ll talk about that next.

Mindfulness

It all begins in the mind. You might get sick of me saying that.  I want it to stick.

Long lasting health and fitness begins in the mind.  It doesn’t end there, but it begins there. 

Short term health and fitness gains can be made without properly preparing your mind. For results that last, it is imperative that you learn to be self aware.

Why? Because mindfulness is key. Key to bridging the gap between a new behavior that you only do sometimes and it becoming a long term habit.

Related: The beginner’s guide to mindfulness in real life

Don’t confuse mindfulness with meditation.  They are related but not the same thing.  You can be mindful all of the time, not matter where you are, or what you’re doing.

Meditating is a practice where you’re actively engaging in some sort of contemplation or reflection.  

Mindfulness simply means being aware of what you are doing, regardless of what you’re doing.  It means the ability to turn off autopilot and really be in tune with the moment.

What if I said to you to consciously think “I’m getting up” or “I’m sitting down” five times today (total) whenever you sit or stand?  It sounds much easier than it actually is.  Try it and you’ll see. 

The reason it’s so hard is because we aren’t mindful by default.  We need to intentionally try to be mindful and make a habit of it.

Being mindful makes achieving health and fitness goals much easier.  This is especially true with regard to eating.

How many times have you grabbed a candy bar, bag of chips, or some other form of junk food and finished it without even thinking about it?

Never?  Well good for you.  You’re in the minority and are already somewhat mindful about what you eat or your habits are just that good.

The rest of us, however, need practice.

Practice Gratitude

I know that sounds funny, as if you’re going to throw on your best workout gear and head over to the gratitude court.  Stay with me though.

Gratitude, like mindfulness, isn’t a natural thing for most people.  The main reason for that is because negative events seem to have a greater and lasting impact.

The result is we are frequently thinking about what is wrong and trying to solve problems.  Of course, we need to solve problems in order to keep moving upward but our focus shouldn’t be on that 24/7.

Taking a moment, every day, to reflect on what you are thankful can be extremely healthy.

I’ve found that reflecting in the morning just after waking up and just before bed has a positive impact on my general well-being.

I personally use this journal because it is designed to help you incorporate gratitude into your day everyday.

Years of research has shown that gratitude has positive benefits to psychological well-being.

It can make people happier, improve their relationships, and even counteract symptoms of depression.

New research is suggesting that it may also have benefits to our physical health as well.

As researcher Jeff Huffman puts it:

“Gratitude can be a very invigorating experience.  There is growing evidence that being grateful may not only bring good feelings.  It could lead to better health.”

Eating Healthy

The idea of eating healthy is fairly easy to understand: 

  • Learn what is good and what isn’t good to put in your body. 
  • Develop the discipline to put good things in your body the majority of the time. 
  • Practice temperance when it comes to putting things in your body that you know aren’t good for it.

It’s very hard to not have a reasonably healthy diet when doing those three things consistently.

Know What Foods are Unhealthy

I’m not going to provide an extensive list of unhealthy foods that are detrimental to your health and fitness goals.  I like to keep it simple. 

Honestly, there are a few culprits that are the main enemies of maintaining a healthy weight and/or achieving the toned and fit body you desire.

They aren’t necessarily foods, rather ingredients that are in a lot of the foods that we eat.

Chances are you already know what they are.  The bigger issue is how to avoid them which we will get into later.  

Keep in mind I’m simply pointing out ingredients that are unhealthy.  I am not automatically categorizing them as “bad” foods.  I consider myself to be in pretty good shape, but I probably have at least something that is unhealthy on most days.

The lion’s share of the time the amount of healthy foods I eat outweigh the unhealthy foods.  That is because:

  1.  I know what is unhealthy, and;
  2.  I am mindful about the way that I eat.

Again, it is important to know that unhealthy is not synonymous with bad.  That leads to guilt, shame, and a host of other things none of us want.  

That being said, here are a few things that are widely considered to be  unhealthy by health professionals across the world:

Refined / Added Sugar

But EVERYTHING has sugar! you might say…

It’s true that many foods do have sugar but my number one culprit is not listed as sugar, it is “refined” or “added” sugar.

Refined / added sugars are not the same as naturally occurring sugars.  A simple way to distinguish between the two is this:

  • Natural Sugar – found in strawberries, milk, oranges, cheese, and pretty much any other fruit or dairy product you can imagine.
  • Refined / Added Sugar – found in cookies, candy, sodas, and pretty much any other sweet treats you can imagine.

Limiting sugar in all its forms is one of the quickest ways to lose weight in my personal experience.  However, it is essential to limit refined / added sugars if you’re serious about your health and fitness.

This is true whether you workout or not.

Eating too much added sugar can have a lot of negative health effects and it’s very easy to consume added sugar in excess.

Sweetened foods and beverages are known to lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease, among other dangerous conditions.

We’ll explosure some alternatives below in the shop smart section.

Partially Hydrogenated Oils

Hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen.

The most common ones are margarine and vegetable shortening.

Consuming these oils has been linked to diabetes, cancer and heart disease in multiple studies.

This hydrogenation process damages the fatty acids in the oils, creating trans fatty acids, which are particularly dangerous to human health.

Federal regulations allow companies to put 0 grams of trans fat in the nutrition information as long as the trans fat content is less than 0.5 grams. So just because it says no trans fats doesn’t mean there isn’t any.

When you look at the ingredients of a product, fully hydrogenated is always a better option than partially hydrogenated.

We’ll explore some alternatives below in the shop smart section.

White Flour

White flour, or more specifically, enriched white flour is a common ingredient in many of our favorite foods.

Enriched white flour is used in many breads, pastas, and baked goods.

Unfortunately it is also an enemy to health and fitness goals.  Especially health and fitness goals related to losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight.  

Enriched white flour is similar to refined sugar in that it doesn’t contain any nutrients. The body also processes it in a very similar way.

Studies show that eating refined carbs such as enriched white flour can contribute to weight gain of up to 3 pounds of body fat per month.

In addition to weight gain and obesity, the following health conditions have been associated with eating enriched white flour:

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Inflammation
  • Poor digestion
  • Cancer

We’ll explore some alternatives in the shop smart section below.

Shop Smart

Keep it simple!  When going to the grocery store, avoid products with refined sugar, refined oils, and white flour.

And it may seem obvious, but I’ll say it anyway.  Don’t purchase refined sugar, partially hydrogenated oils, or white flour.  If you’re trying to avoid products with these things, it doesn’t make sense to cook with them either!

It may seem as if your options are severely limited without these products.  In fact, you might be thinking: “Is it really worth it just to a little more healthy and fit?”

The answer is yes, there are healthier alternatives and chances are you will be A LOT more healthy and fit.

Stevia is probably the best choice if you’re looking for something to replace refined sugar.  

It contains zero calories, is 100% natural and has no known adverse health effects. It has also been shown to lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

Stevia comes in several varieties and some taste better than others.  You may have to experiment to find the one you like best.

While margarine and shortening are easy to cook with, they contain partially hydrogenated oils.

Olive oil is probably the most readily available alternative and is definitely healthier.

If you enjoy cooking with flour, choose healthier options such as whole wheat, oat flour, rye flour, almond meal, brown rice flour, or millet flour.

These are higher in fiber, digested more slowly, and have more nutrients than “enriched” foods.  Also, since they aren’t processed as starch your body doesn’t go through the energy highs and lows.

Eat Vegetables

So this is fairly obvious but I still have to say it.  Mainly because a lot of people still ignore this long known fact about being healthy.

Most vegetables are basically the opposite of refined sugar, flour, and oil.  Why? Because they have low calories and high nutritional value.

In contrast, refined sugar, flour, and oil have high calories and essentially no nutritional value whatsoever.

The nutritional value of vegetables comes mostly in the form of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Some of the healthiest ones on the planet that you should try to include in your daily diet include:

  • Spinach – Loaded with tons of nutrients in a low-calorie package, spinach is important for skin, hair, and bone health.
  • Carrots – These bright orange veggies are high in beta carotene. The human body converts beta carotene into vitamin A, which is essential for healthy skin and mucus membranes, our immune system, and good eye health and vision.
  • Broccoli –This superfood is loaded with fiber, antioxidants to fight cancer, and vitamin C to aid in iron absorption.

The nutrients in these and other vegetables are vital for health and maintenance of your body. Eating a diet rich in vegetables may also reduce risk for stroke, cancer, heart diseases and type-2 diabetes.

Get Enough Vitamins and Minerals

This doesn’t mean you need to start taking a multivitamin if you aren’t currently. 

It also doesn’t mean you need to become a vegetarian or vegan to get the vitamins you need to be healthy and fit.

It simply means you need to educate yourself on what vitamins and minerals your body needs, and see that your body gets them.

While taking a multivitamin might be right for you, it is never a good idea to use them as a replacement for a bad diet.

Your best and safest bet is to talk to your personal physician/doctor regarding your individual needs.

Most people can get the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a well-balanced diet that contains a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein.

You might, however, be someone that has special nutrition needs that can’t be met through diet alone.

If you’re a fairly healthy adult, chances are that you fall into the category of having your needs met through a balanced diet.  The key there is that you actually have to eat a balanced diet.

Again, your doctor should be able to tell you what’s best for you, but multivitamins and supplements should never be used to make up for eating poorly. 

Eat Breakfast

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day.  I don’t know how some people don’t eat breakfast, but I have a theory.

That theory is time.  I’m sure this doesn’t apply to everyone, but I’m willing to bet the majority of people that skip breakfast do so because of time.

I say this because I’ve never met:

  1. Anyone who doesn’t like to eat
  2. Anyone who doesn’t wake up at least a little hungry

Then there’s the well known adage of “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”.  If they aren’t eating it, people must be too busy.

Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong.  Regardless, up to 25% of Americans skip breakfast regularly for some reason.

Why should you eat breakfast? Here are five reasons to consider:

  1. Starting your day with breakfast can boost your metabolism and keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day.
  2. A morning meal will give you energy, keep you active and productive until lunch.
  3. Eating breakfast has been associated with a lower incidence of heart disease.
  4. Breakfast reduces risk of cravings and overeating later in the day.
  5. Eating a morning meal helps to improve your concentration.

Drink Water – Lots of Water

Drinking water helps to prevent chronic dehydration, which is one of the 5 things you absolutely MUST AVOID if you want to slow the aging process, reclaim your health, and achieve your ideal body.

This is according to Steve Holman, editor-in-chief of IRON MAN Magazine and co-creator of an excellent fitness program called Old School / New Body.

If that isn’t enough of a reason, it can also improve your mood and mental performance. 

Our brain tissue is made up of 76% water and being dehydrated can cause us to feel lethargic, drained, and lead to headaches and mood fluctuations.

Avoid Soda

Soda and other sugary drinks have no place in your health and fitness journey.  There is just no benefit to them whatsoever.

That’s not to say that you can’t occasionally treat yourself to one.  It’s probably better to steer clear completely if you can but every once in a while won’t hurt much.

It is, however, a very big problem if these are your go to beverages to quench your thirst. 

Whatever your health and fitness goals are, they will ALWAYS be out of reach if you constantly drink soda.

Besides being very high in refined sugar, it can cause insomnia. Especially sugary drinks that are also caffeinated.

You know that it can cause weight gain because of all of the sugar, but it can also have a negative effect on your bone health and lead to tooth decay and stomach issues.

If those aren’t enough reasons to avoid it, keep in mind that it can also effect mood and cause you to break out with acne.

Limit this stuff. Or avoid it altogether if you can.

Healthy Movement (Exercise)

You’ve probably heard exercise used alongside health and fitness many times.  In fact, you might even think of exercise and health and fitness as synonymous.

The terms are not synonymous, but exercise is a critical ingredient of achieving good overall health and fitness.

When I say exercise, I really mean any kind of physical activity or movement.  I think some people get intimidated by the word “exercise”.

It’s easy to associate exercise with extremely fit people at the gym, professional athletes, marathon runners, and others that spend an incredible amount of time training or working out.

It’s also easy to say “that’s just not me” or “I’ll never be in that kind of shape so why waste my time?”

You don’t have to look like a fitness model and you probably don’t even want to.  Truth is, if you really wanted to achieve that you probably could.

In reality, you likely just want to feel good and wear clothes that you love, not just ones that fit.

You probably have a good idea of how sedentary your life is at this point. Start by simply finding more ways to move your body.

Why should you exercise?

Exercising has physical benefits such as:

  • Looking Better – Exercising is known to increase your metabolic rate which helps you burn more calories.  When you burn more calories than you take in, you lose weight.  Additionally, combining aerobic exercise with resistance training helps to drop pounds and maintain muscle mass.  This is important in the long run for keeping unwanted pounds off.
  • Strong bones and muscles – Physical activity naturally helps to build and maintain strong bones and muscles.  Building strong bone density when you’re younger can help prevent osteoporosis later.  Maintaining muscle strength can also help prevent various injuries as you age.
  • Skin health – Your skin needs antioxidant protection to stay healthy and vibrant.  Moderate exercise helps to provide this protection and promote blood flow as well.  These two things combined can protect your skin and delay signs of aging.
  • Reduced risk of disease – Regular exercise improves cardiovascular function and body composition while reducing blood pressure and blood fat levels.  This can reduce the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes just to name a few.

Exercising has mental benefits such as:

  • Improve mood / Increase happiness – People who exercise feel more relaxed and have a better overall sense of well being.  Exercising releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good.
  • Brain health and memory – The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.
  • Better sleep – exercise has long been known to help regulate sleep patterns and improve sleep quality.  One study found that 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week can provide up to a 65% improvement in sleep quality.
  • Increased self-esteem and confidence – Exercising regularly can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful.  Additionally, you’ll naturally start to feel more confident about your appearance.
  • Mental toughness – Exercise can help you cope with the inevitable mental and emotional challenges of life in a healthy way, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviors that ultimately make your symptoms worse.

Why exercise doesn’t have to be hard

Physical activity (or movement) is essential to becoming and staying healthy and fit.  When you think of exercise as just that, physical activity or movement, it becomes less intimidating.

If you can just figure out more ways to move, you will be exercising more than you are now.

Thinking of exercise as a chore reduces the chances that you will do it.  And if you do force yourself to do it, chances are you won’t stick with it for long.

One of the main reasons exercising is so difficult for some people is because they set themselves up for failure.

For example, if you currently run zero miles per week, it doesn’t make sense to set an initial goal of running 20 miles per week.

This is a recipe for failure and could quickly cause you to throw your health and fitness goals right out the window.

A better approach would be to set a small goal and set the goal for a particular time and place.

For example, you could say that you are going to run half a mile on the treadmill after work on Thursday.  Commit to doing it and then do it.

This might seem like too small of a goal, but that’s kind of the point.  It’s something that you haven’t done before and aren’t likely to back out on.

Additionally, your chances of completing the goal are much higher and you’ll be more motivated to continue.  If it seemed too easy, just increase it for the next time to an amount that you feel would be a bit challenging.

You just don’t want it to be so challenging that you can’t complete it.  You want to create scenarios where winning (meeting the goal) is probable, but you still need to push yourself a little.

It may take some time to find the sweet spot, but I think it’s always better to make sure you can complete what you’re attempting to do in the very beginning.

Knowing that you could have pushed yourself a little further happens fairly quickly.

Exercising doesn’t have to be difficult when you start small and gradually increase the frequency, intensity, or duration.

Eventually it will be come a habit and habits by their very nature aren’t hard to do.  Good or bad, they happen automatically for the most part.

Best exercises for beginners

The best way to get moving if you don’t currently exercise is to walk.  That’s right, just walk.

Walk the dog, walk around the office, walk on the treadmill, walk around the house.  Take the opportunity to walk whenever and wherever you are.

Tracking steps is a fantastic way for beginners to set and achieve goals.  There are a plethora of pedometers and fitness trackers out there today.

I use my Apple watch to track all things health and fitness related but it isn’t necessary if you just want something functional to track your steps in the beginning.

Trackers are great because you can set any amount of steps as your goal.  They provide the data for the exact amount of steps you take.

General Healthy Habits

Some habits promote a healthy lifestyle just by their nature.  In other words, they contribute to good overall health and also inspire you to be healthier in other ways.

Charles Duhigg calls these keystone habits in his best-selling book, The Power of Habit.

Sleep Patterns

I’m not going to say that you need to get exactly 8 hours of sleep every single night.

That’s a ridiculous proposition for the vast majority of us and truthfully, not every person needs 8 hours of sleep.

However, it’s generally accepted that most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep on any given night.

That’s all good and well, but how much sleep to YOU need?  Are you someone who only needs 6 hours of sleep?  Is it detrimental if you sleep longer than 9 hours?

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco discovered a gene that enables those who have it to do well on only 6 hours of sleep.  The problem is, that gene only exists in 3% of people. 

You and I are more than likely part of the 97%. Because of that, do your best to get between that 7 and 9 if you can.

Regardless of the number of hours, you should be trying to get the most out of whatever sleep you get.

Focus on getting the best quality of sleep as much as, if not more than, the exact amount of hours and minutes.

The National Sleep Foundation has identified the key indicators of quality sleep as:

  • Sleeping more time while in bed (at least 85 percent of the total time)
  • Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
  • Waking up no more than once per night; and
  • Being awake for 20 minutes or less after initially falling asleep.

These evening habits should help with getting quality sleep at night and contribute to your health and fitness goals.

Quit Smoking

The amount of evidence that smoking is hazardous to your health is overwhelming.  If you’re really serious about being healthy and fit, smoking has to go.

Clearly this doesn’t apply to you if you aren’t a smoker. If you are though, it can be a catalyst for all kinds of other positive changes in your life. 

Quitting smoking is one of the most difficult things for a person to do.  Because of that, the person who has done it has also increased their mental fortitude by leaps and bounds.

But what does quitting smoking have to do with a person’s overall health and fitness? Everything.  Keep reading.

Smoking is bad for essentially every organ in your body.  Among these are:

  • The Brain – Nicotine from cigarettes is as addictive as heroin.  Anxiety, irritability, and strong cravings are some of the negative side effects when withdrawing from nicotine.
  • The Heart – Smoking raises blood pressure and puts stress on the heart.  The heart gets weaker over time and is less efficient in pumping blood to other parts of the body.  Inhaled smoke means less available oxygen which causes the heart to work harder.  This increases your risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
  • The Lungs – Smoking causes inflammation in the lungs.  Continued inflammation builds up scar tissue, which leads to physical changes to your lungs and airways that can make breathing hard.

Clearly the three organs listed above must be cared for in order to live a healthy and fit lifestyle.  

Smoking is bad for all three (among others) and should be avoided or eliminated.

Connect with Others

You might not generally think about connecting with others as something important to health and fitness.

It most certainly is though, whether you believe it not.

As human begins, we are social creatures and we must interact with others to truly be happy.

Consider this, in 1951 researchers at McGill University paid a group of male graduate students to stay in small chambers equipped with only a bed for an experiment on sensory deprivation.

The only time they could leave the small chambers was to use the restroom.

The plan was to observe students for six weeks, but not one lasted more than seven days. Nearly every student lost the ability “to think clearly about anything for any length of time,” while several others began to suffer hallucinations.

Of course, this is an extreme example and the same has been observed with prisoners kept in solitary confinement.

What about everyday people who habitually isolate themselves either intentionally or unintentionally?

Studies have consistently shown that as social animals, humans need each other. We need to feel supported, valued, and loved.

Those who have good relationships are happier, healthier, and live longer than those who report feeling lonely.

So how does one connect with others if it isn’t something that comes naturally?

It actually does come naturally, but this day and age we are often trying to connect in ways that aren’t natural.

Email, social media, and instant messaging services just to name a few.

These and other forms of “digital connection” just don’t provide the same feelings of true connection.

Sending a person a text message is a lesser form of connecting than talking to them on the phone, which is lesser than talking to them face-to-face.

Connecting with others doesn’t have to mean having long, heart to heart conversations all of the time.

Although that is certainly connecting, start by trying to just interact with actual human beings more often.

The next time you get coffee, ask the barista how their day is going.  And do your best to be genuinely interested in their response.

If you’re walking down the street or the hallway at work, smile at someone who walks past you.  It’s quite amazing what these small things can do for your day.

Start Now

Don’t wait another second to start setting and working towards your health and fitness goals.

You don’t have to shoot off the starting blocks like an Olympic sprinter, but you do have to get started. 

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”  

Arther Ashe

Stop focusing on things like:

  • How difficult it will be.
  • What you are unable to do. 
  • Your perceived limitations
  • How long it will take.

This applies not only to health and fitness, but to life in general.

Focusing on any of those things above will kill belief.  And when you lack belief you’re almost certain to delay starting, usually forever.

It makes total sense.  Why waste time putting effort into something that can’t be done?

That’s why you must believe that it can be done.  And it’s why you need to set short term goals on the way to your ultimate goal.  It’s much easier to believe in a goal that’s within sight.

Starting as quickly as possible is essential because procrastinating only makes you more apprehensive.

In fact, the way I see it:

“Action always produces a result whereas inaction will only produce more anxiety.”

Even if the result is something you don’t like, you will have learned how to do better next time. Always take action even if it seems like the step is so small that it’s pointless.

And once you get started, it’s up to you to keep going.  No matter how slow the progress is, keep going.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

This doesn’t mean to drive yourself insane by trying to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It means don’t quit when things are happening too slowly or because it’s hard and makes you uncomfortable.

If you’ve honestly given something a legitimate shot over a period of time and it isn’t working, by all means switch up your approach.  But don’t quit.

And always remember, at no point will you have “tried everything”.  It’s not even possible so don’t even let yourself start to think that.

Consistency

Success with health and fitness, especially in the long term, is largely a matter of consistency.

I would say this goes beyond health and fitness into many other areas such as love and business, but I digress.

Consistency really boils down to this: Committing to take a series of actions over time and demonstrating those actions regularly even when the motivation to do so is absent.

When you first get pumped up to do something, such as a new years resolution, your energy level is high and you’re eager to get started.

The desire is there, the motivation is there, and you feel unstoppable.

You begin with good intentions and even start strong.  Then inevitably something happens and you quit.  Sometimes you don’t even realize that you quit until later.

This is usually attributed to:

  1. Trying to do too much in the beginning, and/or
  2. Something interrupts or disrupts your new desired behavior before it becomes a habit.

As I mentioned before, you’ll likely fail if you try to do too much in the beginning.  Failing is not a great motivator for most. 

You want to set yourself up to win with goals that stretch you but not ones that far exceed your current capabilities.

As for something disrupting your new desired behavior, you need to plan ahead for that.

If you plan to go to the gym three nights a week at 5pm for 30 minutes, you need to have a backup plan for each night.  That way, if something comes up that you can’t avoid, you already know when you’ll make up for it.

When you don’t have a backup plan, it’s easy to quit because that’s what your current habit is.  Not that quitting is your habit, but whatever you used to do around 5pm everyday.  

You’ll have to be very diligent in the beginning to stay consistent.

This article is probably my favorite explanation of the value of consistency in trying to reach goals and life in general.

Don’t Go at it Alone

If you have someone you trust and know will support you on your health and fitness journey, make use of them!

Tell them exactly what you plan to do and when you plan to do it.  Then ask them to essentially act like a parent and remind you of your commitments.

As children, we have adults to hold us accountable and help keep us on track. 

Once we grow up, It’s primarily on us as individuals to develop the discipline to develop better habits.  

There are people, especially when it comes to health and fitness, that can keep us accountable.

At the end of the day though, it all comes down to what we’re willing to do.  We’re all still adults and no one can force us to do anything.

Difficult but Not Complex

Depending on who you are, some of the things in this article may be easy and others may be difficult.  Absolutely none of them are complex though.

What’s the difference?

When I say complex, I mean hard to understand or challenging for the average person to grasp.

When I say difficult, I mean difficult to adhere to.  Difficult to actually comply with.

For instance, suppose I wanted to get a PhD in astrophysics.  That would be something fairly complex.  I would have to learn about electromagnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and a host of other things.

It would take me years to achieve my degree and/or become an expert.  Astrophysics is a complex science that can’t be mastered in a short amount of time.

Now take another scenario.  My co-worker has brought in the best donuts in town for our morning meeting.  I’m currently on a no sugar diet so I don’t want to eat one.

There’s nothing complex about this.  I have one job, DON’T EAT THE DONUT.  It may not be complex, but it sure is difficult.

The big difference in solving things that are just difficult vs things that are complex is that complex problems take time to solve.

Problems that are just difficult can be solved in the moment.  You only have to make a decision, stick to it, and don’t let your autopilot urges take over.

Most things related to health and fitness are difficult but not complex. You most likely already know the vast majority of what you need to do. The difficulty is in the DOING, not knowing what to do.

This is because it’s so hard to overcome existing habits. Our habits are like gravity in that way.

Consider this, on a trip to the moon a spaceship uses more energy on liftoff and the first few miles than the rest of the trip. This amounts to almost a half million miles round trip.

It takes that much energy to break through the gravitational force surrounding earth. But once it is overcome, the rest of the trip is essentially effortless.

They go much farther, much easier once they break through the incredible forces holding them back.

Habits like mindless eating, too much television, not exercising, and a host of other bad habits are difficult to overcome. It won’t be easy to do, but it will be well worth it.

The potential lengthy period of difficulty is a small price to pay for a lifetime of health and happiness.

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