My Fitness Journey: Running and Wellness

My fitness journey has been stop/start for years. I know it is essential to keep fit, raise the heart rate and push the body. It keeps things working in the long-term and helps restore the balance. The body was used to labouring in ancient times – the hunter/gatherer required us to be active – and the body is designed to deliver. But in today’s sedentary times where we have “the good life” (if we’re fortunate enough) we have to bolt on exercise to our regular daily routine. And that’s when it can feel like a chore and we find excuses not to do it.

And that’s OK as long as we don’t succumb to it, succumb to the cage of sedentarism. We are designed to move. We need to move. Whether it is a brisk walk for 30 minutes, a run, cycling, swimming, hitting the gym, dancing it out when nobody is looking, yoga or one of many other forms of exercise, finding the one that works for you is a quest you should accept.

NHS Guidelines

Here’s what the NHS advises for physical activity for adults aged 19 to 64:

Adults should do some type of physical activity every day. Any type of activity is good for you. The more you do the better.

Adults should:

  • aim to be physically active every day. Any activity is better than none, and more is better still
  • do strengthening activities that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least 2 days a week
  • do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week
  • reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity.

You can also achieve your weekly activity target with:

  • several short sessions of very vigorous intensity activity
  • a mix of moderate, vigorous and very vigorous intensity activity

You can do your weekly target of physical activity on a single day or over 2 or more days. Whatever suits you.

My Fitness Journey

Many years ago, I took up a regular program at the gym. However, unless I booked a personal trainer, my attendance dropped off. I tried a couple of times to correct this, but it never seemed to stick, even though I enjoyed the feel-good feeling that it brought to my daily life. The gym was a little far away (about 30 minutes drive) which was an agreement I had made with my partner as a preference over the functional option of the 24-hour gym at the end of the road.

I wrote a few blog posts on health and fitness apps (1, 2, 3, 4) and looked into wearables with the Polar Beat app so I could do some more detailed analytics on actual performance and achievement to tune my workouts accordingly. Many of these apps don’t exist any longer and the world of wearables has advanced significantly, but none of them provided or held the motivation I needed to continue.

By 2010 I had drifted away from the first gym and knew I needed to do something, so I tried the Century Push Quest – a quest to build up to 100 push-ups. I could do this at home and didn’t need any fancy equipment. But that didn’t stick. I found it boring. In 2013, I tried to pick up the pace again and wrote about it on my post about Unfitness where I also looked into the Nike+ Kinect Trainer. I joined an online fitness club (Fitocracy) to help me stay motivated, but that fell away. In 2014 I reprinted an article that says It’s Never too Late to Get Fit but still did little after that.

My Fitbit was consigned to my bedroom drawer and I worked stupid hours for 5 years running my restaurants and then had a stroke earlier this year. That was a wake-up call as the doctors basically prescribed exercise. They said it was a requirement and if I didn’t do it there was a risk of a relapse from which I might not recover.

Then came COVID which actually gave me a 6-week break before the crazy world of restaurants sucked me back in. During this time I picked up yoga again, having experimented with the Down Dog app a year-or-so previously. I also added the 7-minute workout app to my routine so I did some mixed bodyweight exercises. It became a regular thing. My calendar tracked regular routines and I was enjoying it. But, we re-opened and that was pretty much the end of that, partly because I needed more rest than before my stroke – which is also part of the healing journey – so it was back to wake-up, go to work, come home, do some personal development (if I was up to it), then go to sleep. Rinse and repeat.

But I didn’t feel good. The fatigue and stress of the business and personal life made me feel off. I had dizzy or fuzzy spells when I got tired – all things I had to avoid – and knew I couldn’t sustain 80+ hour weeks any longer. To be honest, nobody should as my hospitalisation demonstrated. I stepped back from the business which has generated a whole new shipment of stress.

A few of my customers said I looked like a runner with my physique and I had had conversations with a regular runner who now reguarly runs marathons, and a friend who also runs though not as fervently. I gained a good insight into gear and approach and my friend recommended the C25K app as a great way to get started. It had helped her get the bug.

There are many C25K apps on the app store, some paid and some free. Your preference will steer you in one direction or another, but the NHS One You C25K app was recommended to me (and it’s free). You can read more about the C25K program here which has links to the apps.

I installed the app, then procrastinated for a month. I did some research into shoes – as I wanted to be able to run off-road more than on-road – and learned that since the shoes are essential to running well and safely, it is important to get a proper gait analysis done in a professional store so that you buy the right shoes for your body. This analysis is usually provided free-of-charge and you will get the right shoes for you. My gait was about normal and I opted for a pair of Saucony Peregrine ISO 10s.

And then I finally started running last week, using the app. After 4 runs I am loving it. I was tempted to skip today as I felt tired, but I am so glad I didn’t. I joined the Fitbit running group and also re-activated my Strava account so I can track and compare performance over time. I don’t have subscriptions but it’s useful to see your personal bests and comparison times with the analysis the free account gives. This helps motivate you to get better as you are competing with yourself and not an extrinsic reference point. I feel the spark has lit within me and, coupled with additional yoga work (thank you Down Dog), I have found my fitness place.

As I progress with my C25K journey I may subscribe to a paid plan and that will be my litmus test to determine if I have truly found my thing. I already have a Down Dog subscription which allows me to customise the yoga workout fully to focus on specific areas – such as legs or back – or for different purposes – such as flexibility or strength. As I progress through my running I will start adding some bodyweight workouts into the mix during the run. There are some great places along the route and, weather permitting, these will make perfect breakout areas.

Exercise Boosts Wellness

Many studies show that people who exercise regularly benefit from a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression. Improved self-esteem is also a key psychological benefit of regular physical activity. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.

And based on all my ins-and-outs with workouts of varying types, and my recent regular runs, I can attest that my mood is elevated, I feel mentally stronger and more resilient and it does feel good. That positive feeling spills out into other areas of life, such as relationships and work, and has an uplifting effect on the body and mind. So it’s not just the body that gets the workout, it’s your whole life!

In Retrospect

My fitness journey has evolved significantly over the years. I started with research and advice that showed keeping fit was key to success – this came from reading business books and general medical advice. I bought a bicycle, then sold it because it never got used, then bought another one during lockdown (which I have ridden twice). I researched foods and nutrition (see articles on alkaline foods, molokhia, almonds, tea, energy drinks, sugar, and caffeine), looked at buying a rowing machine, visited gyms, swum, tried yoga, tai chi, chi kung and meditation (see my review of Muse as well as sound-bath meditation). And finally took up running since the universe seemed to be nudging me in that direction.

It has been a journey of hit-and-miss attempts but, after spending some time focusing on the health and fitness segment of my holistic Life Wheel, have now discovered a clearer purpose and direction and found running to tick the boxes in other areas also (it gets me out in nature and provides some alone-time). With added yoga and meditation, I believe I have created my core fitness foundation and look forward to expanding it further in the years to come. And I feel great too.

Does my journey resonate with you in any way? Can I help you with your health and fitness journey? Can I help dispel misconceptions you may have around this topic?

If it does, get in touch with me, contact me through the social networks or post your experiences in the comments. Have a great day!

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