Shortly before turning 60, I decided to change my lifestyle so that I could lose 62 pounds and recover the energy of my youth. Seven years later, I've attained most of the goals I initially set for myself. Yet unless I am careful, focusing on goals can easily undermine my ability to stay fit.
For years, I dieted and exercised just enough to lose pounds and inches. On those rare occasions when I followed through, I quickly resumed my former lifestyle and gave back what had been so preciously earned. I veered from enthusiasm to guilt as my fitness levels improved and then disintegrated.
During the years when I kept trying and failing to become fit, I had the means to achieve my goals, and I had plenty of professional support. Only in retrospect can I see what was missing: I had forgotten how to live. This forgetfulness made me lose touch with my body. The condition of my body—out of shape and imbalanced—was a metaphor for my life.
Ultimately, I came to realize that fitness is not a goal but simply a means to thoroughly enjoying the experience of living. Weight management is not a goal but a means to good health. These means boil down to four daily actions:
- I eat 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day.
- I exercise one hour a day unless I am sick.
- I get adequate rest.
- I maintain connections with the world through family, friends, and volunteer work.
Recovering the joy of being alive is what my fitness journey involves. To me, "fitness" means cultivating relationships so that strangers become friends. While I’m out walking, I pick up trash—a simple act that makes me feel good about contributing to the care of my neighborhood. And when family and friends need help, I delight in giving it, knowing that whatever I give will come back to me many times over.
If you're having trouble starting your fitness program, maybe you are making impossible demands on yourself. Asking yourself how you can be more disciplined and how you can deprive yourself to reach your goals are the wrong questions. Instead, ask yourself how you can inject more play and joy into your life.
For most of us, sustainable fitness is not achieved through negative emotions and actions, guilt, or denial. A sense of joy and well-being that comes from being alive in my body inspires me to keep going. What about you?