Have you been struggling with your goal to stay fit lately? I have. Between the quarantine and hot summer months, my usual healthy routine got a bit off track. And I’m feeling it! My clothes are fitting tighter. I’m feeling more sluggish and all-around less motivated, and I don’t like it. Sometimes, a little redirection is what’s needed. So I’m getting more intentional about my choices by reconnecting with the guiding principles that have served my lifelong fitness for decades now. And reflecting on these fundamentals has reminded me how valuable they truly are.
Far from being a rigid set of rules, they’re perspectives that help me tune-in to what my body needs in a loving, gentle way. They go beyond body weight to fit organically with my intentions for balanced living and tending to the wellness of my whole self – body, heart, mind & spirit. And best of all, they work! So I thought I’d share them with you today, in the hopes they might inspire your intentions for healthy living in some way as well.
These 5 keys to lifelong fitness have made staying fit simple, natural, and even enjoyable for me for many years. I hope they’ll do the same for you.
A Little Background On My Journey To Stay Fit
To give some perspective, I want to take you back briefly to where my fitness journey began. Knowing how I discovered these keys can shed some light on their value. And, you may find you can relate to some of the less healthy mindsets I chose to discard, in favor of the more balanced principles I’m sharing today.
I had my son when I was 20 years old. I was in college and, at the time, hadn’t put a lot of thought into healthy eating or staying fit. Unfortunately, this didn’t change during my pregnancy. In fact, my habits got worse. I ate whatever I felt like – which was often junk food, and plenty of it – and I rarely exercised. As a result, I gained a whopping 60 pounds by the time I gave birth. (That was double the recommended weight gain at the time.) At one point, my obstetrician actually joked he was going to wire my mouth shut if I didn’t stop eating!
A Fitness Frenzy
After my son was born, I realized how little of that weight had been attributed to him. I knew I needed to get serious and intentional about my habits if I were going to lose the weight. So, I did a complete 180 and started dieting and exercising religiously. I scoured fitness magazines for tricks that could speed up the process. I tried all kinds of fad diets, from the heavily restrictive cabbage soup diet (which was popular at the time) to consuming little more than two meal replacement shakes a day.
Obsessed with calorie counting, I drank diet sodas and ate diet sweets, without ever contemplating whether these substitutes were actually good for my body. And I tried just as many exercise regimens, from step aerobics to kickboxing to gym memberships and plain, old walking. Every time I went into my bathroom, I weighed myself, sometimes without clothes to shave a pound or two.
I was determined, and I did manage to get close to my pre-pregnancy weight. However, I didn’t feel good. And what’s more, none of this felt sustainable for the long haul. I didn’t feel healthy and vitalized. I felt tired, deprived, and way out of balance.
Staying Fit Should Make You Feel Good
About a year into this weight-loss frenzy, I had an epiphany. It started with the scale in my bathroom. One day I looked down at it and realized the number it produced could fluctuate morning-to-evening from something as inconsequential as water weight. And my monthly cycle always led to a sudden gain, and then loss, of several pounds. Around this time, I also read somewhere that people weigh less on the moon, due to differences in the gravitational force there. It occurred to me, I’d been devoting all this effort to get to some number on the scale, and I didn’t know why that number really mattered in the first place.
So I started evaluating what did matter to me about my body. What does it mean to be fit? I didn’t want to know what the magazines, commercials, and movies had to say about it. What did I think about it? The answer I arrived at was something along the lines of this:
Fitness is feeling strong, healthy, and full of vital energy. It’s feeling good about my body and what I can do with it, and has little to do with the number on my scale or in my jeans.
Thus began a new journey, one I’ve been on ever since. A lifelong journey to stay fit. Not to meet some ideal, but to take care of myself. It’s had its ebbs and flows, and it’s been refined over time, but for the most part, I’ve stayed true to it. I come back to it again and again with relative ease because it feels good, balanced, and self-loving. And it’s guided by the following 5 keys for staying fit.
1. To Stay Fit, Own Your Definition For Fitness
This key lays the foundation for all the others. If you don’t know what fitness is in the first place, how can you stay fit? That may seem obvious, but this principle’s about more than having a generic understanding of fitness, or letting the world of consumer marketing define it for you. To own your definition of fitness means you’ve spent some time listening to your body and have come to understand how to honor its needs. It can also mean recognizing the way your physical state interacts with your emotional, mental, and even spiritual health.
Generically, fitness means your body is healthy and able to perform the physical tasks you need it to do. If we listen to what most consumer marketing tells us, fitness can mean being thin, muscular, and/or having high endurance for physical activity. A more holistic perspective would define it as an optimal state in which our body is functioning at its best to sustain health and mobility, as well as to enhance emotional, mental, and even spiritual well-being.
But what does fitness mean to you? When you have a personalized definition for fitness, it incorporates the components for healthy functioning that matter most to you. And because it’s internally driven, it holds you more accountable for giving yourself what you know you need to feel your best.
Defining Fitness For You
To determine this requires self-reflection that can take time, as you pay attention to what makes you feel your healthiest, most vital, and best equipped to do what you need to do in life. If these answers aren’t clear for you yet, you can spend some time observing yourself and how you respond to things like:
- periods of activity vs. inactivity
- different types and amounts of food and drink
- patterns of sleep
- types of physical movement
- levels of water intake
- alcohol consumption
- and any other habits that impact your sense of well-being
If you want, you can keep a journal to track your choices and responses over time. But it doesn’t have to be a formal affair. The point is coming to know when you tend to feel your healthiest – and importantly – identifying what factors contribute to it. Then letting that honest self-reflection guide your definition for fitness.
I’ve found this self-referenced and self-loving framing of fitness translates to an intrinsic motivation for making choices that align with my health and wellness. It feels less like a rule, chore, or battle and more like an expression of self-love. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should ignore medical advice or shun common wisdom. It just means, gaining self-awareness around your unique responses, needs, and values can reveal a richer, more meaningful understanding of what fitness truly is for you.
2. Staying Fit Requires A Healthy Relationship To Food
There’s no way around this one. You can’t stay fit for long if you have an unhealthy relationship with food. That’s because food determines much about our body’s state. And it affects our psychological wellness too. The old saying you are what you eat holds true.
In today’s world, we’re flooded with information about what we should and shouldn’t eat. It can be overwhelming and confusing to discern what advice we should follow. Especially when we take into account all the different factors that can make one way of eating good for some, but not so great for others.
However, this key to staying fit isn’t about finding or prescribing a magic-bullet diet. It’s about evaluating how you relate to food at a more fundamental level. It asks you to reflect on the following questions: When do you eat, and why? How do you decide which foods (and how much of them) to eat?
When your answers to these questions serve your overall wellness, you have a solid foundation for healthy eating. With that ground established, it becomes easier to navigate nutrition, and to make choices that align with it.
Food Is Life Energy
To establish a healthy relationship with food, it’s important to acknowledge what food is. And I say that because food has become a mass-marketed commodity that’s frequently presented to us in packaging intended to distract us from this basic fact. Food is life energy. The most important reason we consume it is to give ourselves nourishment we need to live. When it tastes delicious, that’s a perk – and one we all love. But, experiencing taste isn’t the primary purpose of eating. Not only has marketing led us to associate food mostly with taste, but some food products are created with additives intended to addict us to pleasurable chemical releases in the brain.
When we reconnect with food as a source of life energy, it can transform our whole way of relating to it. And one of the best ways to do this is to start practicing mindful eating. I wrote a whole post about this previously, but essentially, to eat mindfully means to slow down the act of eating. It asks you to stay present throughout the process, as you notice all your sensory experiences – taste, texture, smell, sight, and sound. More important to what we’re talking about here, it involves acknowledging the source of your food. Contemplating how it grew from the soil, sun, and rain. How it was cultivated, processed, transported, and made available to you in the store.
As you acknowledge your food in this way, you can’t help but connect with the life energy that’s gone into the whole process – from seed to plate. You begin to respect the energy you’re consuming. Your food is no longer merely a pleasurable taste on your tongue, a way to make you feel better when you’re in a bad mood, or simply something to do. It’s fuel that’s intended to energize your life activities. So you too may contribute your part to the larger flow of life.
As a bonus, the more you practice this kind of mindful eating, the more you’re naturally drawn to whole and natural foods, because you can more easily visualize their source. And because mindful eating slows down and heightens your awareness of the process of eating, it’s easier to recognize when you’re full.
Eating Habits That Help You Stay Fit
When we see food as our source of life energy, it informs our answers to the questions asked above. Why do we eat? Because we need energy to live, and to do what we want and need to do. When do we eat? When we’re hungry. (Not because we’re stressed, bored, or just want to taste something good.) Which foods do we eat? Foods that will give our body what we need in terms of energy and nutrition that sustains life functioning. (Not just foods that offer the most sugar, salt, or any other tasty ingredient.) Finally, how much do we eat? As much as we need to relieve hunger and support our activity levels.
Of course all of this can be easier said than done. The allure of food is powerful. Sometimes, our body doesn’t send us the right signals to tell us when we’re hungry or when we’ve had enough. Especially if patterns of eating for pleasure instead of health have become well-ingrained. A period of retraining our system through discipline may be necessary.
Having said all that, enjoying food simply for the sake of pleasurable experience is part of the joy of living. We don’t want to snuff that out entirely. It’s a matter of balance – choosing to have a healthy relationship with food that overall, and most of the time, serves our health and wellness.
3. Staying Fit Is Easier When You Love How You Move
I can’t stress this one enough. It’s simple, but powerful. When you LOVE how you get your physical activity, you’re naturally drawn to do it on a consistent basis. As I mentioned previously, during my weight loss frenzy, I tried quite a few exercise methods. One of the reasons I knew I couldn’t sustain my old approach to fitness was that exercising felt like a chore. I hadn’t found the forms of movement that made me miss doing them when I went a few days, or even weeks, without them.
There are so many ways to be physically active, and what appeals to me won’t necessarily enthrall you. I have a friend who can’t get enough of circuit-training, but to me, it sounds like torture. There’s no question it could help me stay fit. But if I were to try to commit to it, I have no doubt I’d find all sorts of reasons to put it off. Not enough time today. I don’t have the energy. It’s too far to drive, and the traffic’s so bad.
When you find those forms of movement you really connect to – for whatever reason – it’s different. You find all the reasons you should do it and arrange your schedule however is needed to make sure you can do it. For me, that’s yoga, hiking, and dancing. I’ll hike through mud and rain or the sweltering Texas heat and feel blissfully thankful for it.
If you haven’t found a physical activity you truly love yet, why not get out and explore? Try something new, and keep trying until you find at least one exercise you thoroughly enjoy doing. Of course, joining a gym can give you access to a wide variety of fitness options, but you might also consider the list below:
Ideas To Get You Moving
- Dancing (Ballroom, Belly, Salsa, etc.)
- Paddle Boarding
- Sports (Tennis, Basketball, Softball, etc.)
- Tai Chi
- Walking, Jogging, Running
- Bicycling (or Spin Class)
- Rock Climbing
- Circuit Training (or HIIT)
What’s important is you find something that gets you moving regularly and maintains your muscle mass. Because your body needs good circulation, stability, agility, balance, and strength. And because exercise stimulates your mind, circulates fresh oxygen, gives you more energy, and supports better mental health. It’s vital to lifelong fitness.
4. Lifelong Fitness Is A Matter of Balance
I’ve come to grasp this key more completely and gracefully as my fitness journey has evolved over time. I’m sure it has something to do with age, as this principle looks at fitness through a long lens, instead of the hyper-focus of a magnifying glass. It’s a matter of perspective, and being able to look back over many years enhances my frame of reference.
If your goal is to stay fit across a lifetime, then success isn’t measured in terms of any isolated choice. Nor is it defined by the summation of a day’s – or even a week’s – worth of choices. It’s assessed in terms of predominant trends that endure over much longer spans of time.
This means, for example, if I have a stressful week that leads me to indulge in emotional eating and prevents me from doing any exercise at all, I don’t have to beat myself up for it. In fact, I can do the opposite and offer myself some kindness, understanding, and compassion. (We’ll talk more about this in the final section.) My health and fitness weren’t established in one week, and they’re not going to be undone in one week either. Knowing this, I don’t have to feel guilty, frustrated, or any other self-defeating emotion. I can simply start making choices that feel more supportive of my health again and let that week go.
Likewise, if it’s my birthday, and I want to savor a slice of birthday cake with my coffee for breakfast, I can do it. (I usually do!) Why? Because I know an infrequent indulgence won’t unravel my long-established commitment to fitness. And because I also know that sprinkling little not-so-healthy, just-for-fun choices throughout my life serves another important purpose. That is, spontaneous, in-the-moment enjoyment of living.
That’s balance, and it’s a big part of what makes lifelong fitness attainable and sustainable.
5. To Stay Fit Is A Commitment To Self-Love
This final key to staying fit might just be the most important one of all. This principle transformed the whole dynamic of my fitness journey from feeling pressure to meet a socialized ideal and intense self-judgment to an ever-deepening love and respect for my body and my self. It started with ditching my scale, along with the goal of a specific weight. And over time, it blossomed into a nurturing relationship with my body that appreciates all it does and can do. I’ve learned to listen to my body and honor its wisdom. I allow it to guide me in making food choices and tell me what it needs in terms of movement and rest.
There’s a huge difference between these two approaches to staying fit. And that difference doesn’t just affect my physical state. It seeps into my emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being too. It’s such a shame we experience so much pressure in our culture to look a certain way. And to view our bodies from the outside-in, rather than to feel at home in our bodies and see them as a temple for our higher self.
The Body-Mind-Spirit Connection
When we view fitness through the lens of self-love, we’re supported at all times in our efforts to take care of our self. If we have a period of high stress or other circumstances that leave us making less healthy choices for a time, we can offer kindness, compassion, and love to our self. This leads us naturally back to our healthier habits.
On the other hand, if our fitness goals are tied to idealized expectations and judgment, we may feel guilt, self-loathing, and/or humiliation for falling off the wagon. While this may motivate us to start exercising and eating healthier, we’re still left with those undermining self-perspectives. This feeds cycles of yo-yo dieting or jumping from one fad diet to the next. It tears down self-esteem and can even lead to giving up on fitness altogether.
It’s important to acknowledge how our whole self – body, heart, mind and spirit – is intertwined with the process. When our fitness aspirations are guided by and support self-love, our whole self comes into alignment with them. Not only is it easier to stay physically fit over the span of our life, but we’re healthier emotionally, mentally, and spiritually too.
I hope you’ve found some inspiration for your own lifelong fitness journey with these 5 keys. And if you’d like to get more intentional about staying fit, you can use my free Guided Meditation For Intentional Wellness. It’s a powerful practice that helps develop self-awareness around what your body-mind-spirit system truly needs to feel healthy. And it guides you in setting daily intentions to support those needs.
I’ll leave you with some inspiring quotes from the sages…
Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos- the trees, the clouds, everything.Thich Nhat Hanh
But the real secret to lifelong good health is…Let your body take care of you.Deepak Chopra
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Can you relate to these keys for staying fit? Or, do you have any to add to the list? Share your insight and wisdom!