I spent 30 years on yo-yo diets, struggling to control my weight, obsessing about foods, and very unhappy about all of it. From the age of 13 (which is too young to be worried about such things) until I was 43, I would gain weight, feel like a failure, pick some gimmick diet, lose a few pounds, but then rebound and gain even more back. I was exercising, but only inconsistently, skipping months at a time.
At the age of 23, which I should have been in decent physical fitness, I once pulled a muscle getting out of bed because I had spent so much time doing nothing that my muscles atrophied. I could just barely handle my own body.
When I started a family, I was trying to be a good dad by spending lots of time with my children, but I wasn't taking care of myself. I was on a cycle of eating the wrong things, guzzling coffee to stay awake, and not exercising.
At one point, I thought I was having a heart attack and checked myself into the hospital. It turned out to be too much caffeine causing heart palpitations. I was grateful I hadn't had a heart attack, but worried that I was relying on coffee so much.
Then my cholesterol reached a dangerous level and my doctor prescribed statins for me.
I've discussed in other articles how I had an epiphany about taking care of myself, and most of that was focused on exercising to improve my fitness. I made one decision in particular that provided for me the most benefit: I decided that, if nothing else, I would find a way to exercise every single day.
I don't remember exactly how I came to this, but I know I'd read other books that talked about it (especially Covert Bailey's Fit or Fat). Rather than choose a huge goal for myself like run a marathon or swim across Lake Erie, I just wanted to be consistent. Once a day, 365 days a year, year after year.
That was my goal.
What Happened When I Focused on Daily Fitness
Over the course of the next year, I lost 40 pounds, improved my cholesterol dramatically, re-started my creative writing passion, took up accordion lessons, and — best of all — began to believe that so much more was possible for myself.
Fitness didn't help with all of those things directly. Some of them came about because I also began to eat better, cutting out lots of sweets and processed foods. Some of them came about because I was sleeping better, and cut back on caffeine and soda pop.
Most of all, once the habit for daily fitness became ingrained, I realized I could exercise and do other things with my life without risking the exercise habit. I truly had more energy for other activities, and enjoyed doing things because I felt better overall.
I am convinced that starting a habit for daily fitness leads to other life-improving habits once your fitness habit becomes second nature.
Why is Fitness the Best Place to Start Improving Your Life?
Why start with fitness when the reason dear to my heart has nothing to do with fitness? Like what if what you really want to do with your life is to learn to play the clarinet well enough to join the local symphony orchestra?
Improved fitness leads to other habits such as sleep, nutrition, and daily planning. Your body will respond in several ways to these combined efforts, putting you on a positive cycle of good feeling and satisfaction in your accomplishment. The energy boost is noticeable after just a few weeks of daily activity. And once you have been doing it for a few weeks, you begin to believe in yourself that you really can stick to it. That confidence can be leveraged for other activities.
Why a Fitness Habit Can Be the Easiest to Acquire
Fitness culture pervades the larger culture we are in. There are fitness centers in most communities that are affordable for most people (Planet Fitness, for example, has $10 per month memberships).
Your fitness habit doesn't have to be a big thing, like training for a marathon. You can walk or jog or do calisthenics in your house. Fitness activities can be fun — and should be — and expand your social connections.
The best thing to do is whatever is the most convenient. For instance, jogging is one of the best exercises and is also one of the most convenient. You need shoes and proper clothing for the weather. It might take you five minutes to get dressed. You take a 20 minute jog around the neighborhood. Then cool down and stretch for ten more minutes. That's it. You're done for the day.
What might not be as good a choice is to decide that ice hockey is the best habit for you. The skates are expensive. The equipment is expensive. You have to share in the expense of renting the ice. You have to coordinate the schedule with nine other players. And to have a decent game, you'll also need two goalies, which is probably the most difficult thing to find of all. That's an extreme example, but I'm just making the point that as awesome it may be to play hockey, it may not be the best choice for you to acquire a daily fitness habit.
How to Use Your Fitness Habit to Acquire Other Good Habits
As the fitness habit becomes truly habitual, you free up mental energy to improve other areas of your life. What I have found out is that I plan a fitness activity without stressing myself. I have several options that I enjoy — biking, jogging, calisthenics, yoga, walking and swimming — and I look for the simplest one to do each day. The habit is now so ingrained that I do it automatically, noticing gaps in my schedule each day and inserting the simplest activity to accomplish into the available time.
Remember, I had at one time gotten so out of shape that I pulled a muscle getting out of bed. I had gone months without exerting myself. Now, I rarely go 24 hours.
The planning and scheduling skills can be applied to the other areas. I've gotten so good at identifying available gaps in my daily schedule that it is no-stress to pick out a slot of 20, 30, or 60 minutes to use for music, writing, or managing my finances.
Granted, I'm not perfect about it, but I get to these things as needed and I don't have to halt all other life activities to get them done.
Fitness activities boost endurance, increase your mental capacity and relieve stress — all of which leads to abilities in other areas. Once the full effect of improved fitness kicks in, and finding time in your daily schedule becomes second nature, you will notice that you get more things done.
All you have to do is focus your attention on things you care about, and other areas of your life begin to improve as well.
And it will all be thanks to having acquired a daily habit for fitness.