This is embarrassing to say but, even though I own a fitness company, I haven’t always been the fittest looking guy.
A decade ago, working out was my life. I dabbled in strongman training and got to a point where I could deadlift 725lbs and held a record in the 800 pound tire flip.
Even after my dreams of being the next Magnus ver Magnusson waned, I remained firmly committed to fitness and strength training. But, as it does for so many people, life got busy. Kids came along, my business grew and demanded more of my time and energy and, somewhere along the way, I stopped prioritizing my own fitness.
I was still working out, but not consistently enough. And I had developed poor eating habits thanks to a combination of parental exhaustion, poor planning, and a sweet tooth that had gotten the better of me.
I was in that rut for quite sometime – a year at least – but a few months ago I decided enough was enough.
I made the decision to take control of the things that were tripping me up, and get back to a lifestyle, and physical place, I was proud of and represents my brand. (Is there anything more hypocritical than a fitness company with a dough-y leader? I think not.)
I’m happy to say that, after a few months following the same advice we give our clients, I am feeling – and looking – so much better. None of this is rocket science, but I thought it might be useful re-enforcement to share the changes I’ve made to get back on track:
1. Make time for exercise everyday. I do this by starting my day very early during the week, so I can get a full workout in before most people are even out of bed.
On the days I don’t have an official workout, I squeeze in little bursts of activity. People so often think exercise is all-or-nothing but the reality is that little bits here and there really do make a difference. I’ve got an e-book in the works on the subject, which includes a workout approach based on this principle. And the Toronto Star wrote an article about the value of short bursts of exercise just last week.
2. Move every hour. When I wasn’t taking care of myself, I got in the bad habit of never getting up from my desk – not even for lunch, most days (which had other negative repercussions, like binge eating the second I got home in the evenings). It’s amazing what a difference an hourly mental and physical break can make.
I have the luxury of fitness equipment right beside my desk so I’ll sometimes grab a jump rope or do a few push ups – but usually it’s just a stretch and a little walk around. It’s not that these bursts count as exercise so much as they get your body out of an idle state. This increases blood flow, helps you think, and even helps you to make healthier food choices (thanks to an enzyme called Peptide YY – the more active you are the more your body secretes).
3. Eat regularly, for nourishment. This is the biggest one for me. Before, I was in a cycle of starvation and bingeing, due to my poor planning. I’d eat nothing for hours and then inhale whatever I could find – and the junkier the better, usually.
Now I pack my lunch every single day, and keep a stockpile of fruit, vegetables, and nuts at the office. I still have a fierce sweet tooth – I’d go so far as to call it an addiction to sugar. I’ve always had trouble having “just one” – but I’m working on it. I haven’t cut out the things I love but I’m eating them mindfully, and in moderation.
4. Prioritize sleep. This is a tough one for me because I don’t actually need a ton of sleep in order to feel rested. But, I realized, the larger my sleep debt grew, the harder it was to control my cravings. So now I get to bed early in order to allow me to wake rested for that 5am workout. My wife tells me an 8:30 bedtime is lame but it works for me so I’m sticking with it!
What this experience has reminded me is that each of us really are the sum of our habits. For better or worse, the little things we do every day determine our levels of health, fitness, and well-being. Even the best of us fall off the wagon, but we ALL have the power, and the choice to get back on.
And doing so feels really good, let me tell you.
Poul Nielsen is the owner and operator of Nielsen Fitness, Toronto's leading team of in-home personal trainers. He has 16 years' experience in the fitness industry and has taught courses in Fitness and Lifestyle Management at George Brown College.
In addition to exercise (obviously), he loves spending time with his family, playing the guitar, strong coffee - and dark chocolate!