When I started my journey (2003) the only thing on my mind was the desire to lose weight. With time, I learned to STOP obsessing about the number on the scale. There are multiple ways to track your progress: body measurements, loving what you see in the mirror, you need smaller clothing, you can run longer and faster, lift heavier weights. You can even gain a little weight, and have it be lean muscle.
My routine started alternating between walking and running for half an hour, or until I reached 3 to 5 miles. I also had a 3-days-a-week basic weight training routine, and I tried the South Beach Diet at first but without cutting carbs entirely. With all the training and eating right, it took me 6 months to drop from a size 11 to a size 3.
I keep going to the gym to maintain a healthy weight and because I like the way exercising makes me feel. So many times I heard at the gym “What are you doing here? You don’t need to lose weight!” Well, people need to change their ways of thinking. You exercise to maintain a healthy weight, improve your posture, relieve stress, sleep better, have stronger bones, joints, heart and even to GAIN! Yes, to gain strength, endurance and confidence.
And you eat right to have a healthy body, and give it the best nutrients to keep it free of diseases, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and cancer. So you do it because you love yourself and want good health. You exercise and eat right so you can give your best in all other facets of your life. Keeping a healthy lifestyle is not a short-term deal; it's a long term commitment.
By watching the “Biggest Loser” show you can learn a lot about the contestants, and exercise and diet. In the first episodes, all of them look like they're going to die – but they are NOT going to die. They are getting stronger. I can relate with this struggle, because at first I ran out of breath quickly when I exercised. This is because you are giving your body a challenge by changing from “sitting-on-your-behind-all-day” mode to a “running-and-kicking-my-behind-into-shape” mode. So I had no excuse, I was focused and nothing stopped me.
Based on my experiences during my transformation (also a learning process), here are all the benefits of having an active lifestyle:
- Improves your mood. When you exercise, your brain releases “feel good chemicals”; so when your workout is done, you’ll feel happy, relaxed and proud that you’ve accomplished a daily goal.
- Better overall heath. You reduce the odds of having health issues; like heart disease, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. You will keep a good level of your HDL and LDL cholesterols; reduce chances of artery-clogging plaque in your blood vessels.
- Increased muscle mass. Having muscle mass is more attractive than fat and it takes less space in your body. Other benefits of having lean muscle: your metabolism will improve, so you will burn more calories.
- Your athletic performance will perk up! Your cardiovascular condition gets better and better. Keeping this lifestyle helps to keep a strong and healthy heart. You can even train to run a marathon if you’re up for the challenge.
- Strong bones. Bone density will improve, so you'll have less arthritis pain (if you have it) – I have arthritis in both knees and my doctor always tells me to work my quadriceps to avoid injuries when I participate in running events.
- Feel younger. Maintaining a great athletic conditioning will definitely make you feel like jumping and running around like a teen. Also, drinking lots of water and incorporating anti-aging foods like fruits, veggies, good fats, good carbs and lean protein will help keep your skin young.
- Stay thin! You maintain a healthy weight!
- Zzzzzzz better. Forget sleeping pills; exercise is a good prescription to get a good night's sleep. Try to get at least 7 hours of rest.
- Improves your sex life. Not because you’ll feel sexy, but exercise and good nutrition can definitely increase potency and make your intimate moments more enjoyable.
- New active hobbies. You can also find an active hobby you’ll enjoy. You don’t have to always be inside the gym to find ways to keep a healthy lifestyle. You can find an activity to practice with friends and family – like rock climbing, cycling, volleyball, basketball, football, or swimming.
- Fight depression. It is a known fact that regular exercise reduces stress and helps you with depression symptoms by improving your self-esteem. When you exercise, your body will release chemicals called endorphins which activate a positive feeling, and reduce your perception of pain. For example, after you run or lift heavy, how do you feel? Energized, proud, happy.
- Helps you work more efficiently. If you have a desk job, then you know sitting a lot can do a number on you neck and back. Also, it’s mentally tiring. Sometimes if you’re stuck in a project and really tense, just walk away for a few minutes, or go to the gym; I can guarantee that afterwards you’ll be more relaxed and more productive.
- Make new friends who share your new lifestyle. Yes, during your next kickboxing or spinning class you can even make new friends who will encourage you to keep giving 100%. You can also help motivate family and old friends to start an active lifestyle. In my case, I found a new passion in my life. I love learning new things about fitness and nutrition, and I’ve been helping family and friends.
- Make better food choices. Healthy food doesn’t have to taste bad, and with a new healthy lifestyle you will learn that. Also, you learn to tell what’s healthy and what's junk; prepare healthy meals and snacks at home (even desserts), read labels, avoid processed foods, and choose the best for your body. Distinguish between healthy fats and the ones who are dangerous for your system, simple and complex carbohydrates, limit your sugar intake, increase your fruit and veggie consumption and control portion. Also, you can even make healthy choices when you visit different restaurants with your family and/or friends.
- Make better choices at restaurants. When you eat out, ask how they cook an entrée or ask for a smaller portion. Also, if you want a dessert, you can have it and share it with friends so you don’t have to feel bad.
- You’ll know that a cheating meal/day is NOT a bad thing. Not only does taking a day for a cheating meal help you to be more committed to clean and healthy eating for the rest of the week, but it will help you kick your metabolism and help you avoid plateaus. I am not saying to eat an entire large pizza and an entire chocolate cake in one sitting. Just eat until you’re comfortably full – be in control! After having my cheating meal one day of the week, I usually train harder the next day.
So if you think that dieting and exercise is just about losing weight, then you need to change that way of thinking because this is what causes people to Yo-Yo diet; they see it as a short-term thing. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good for the summer season, but learn to see the big picture here. When you commit to a healthy lifestyle, every aspect of your life will improve.