By Michael Krueger
Sometimes, when I’ve read too many studies, listened to too many foolish opinions, or had issues with clients, I have a tendency to focus on the negative aspects of fitness training. Sure, I see problems where they are but also where they only might be and then even where they aren’t.
When I see people out running, in my mind I will critique their form. I notice poor posture and muscular imbalances in perfect strangers. I subconsciously note what people eat in restaurants and what they put in their cart at the grocery store. These behaviors are not good and will make me crazy, dragging down my outlook on life, the universe, and everything.
So, since I am well aware of the huge effect having a sunny, bright, and positive attitude has on my physical and mental health, I decided for this column I will write about only positive stuff; now I’ll see if I can actually do this.
Restaurants and the Food Industry
As I write this, I’m sitting in a little coffee house. I come here a lot since it’s convenient and they have good coffee, a friendly staff, and good food. They offer all the high-calorie drinks that have become the staple of the coffee drink industry (first somewhat negative comment, but I’m going to cut myself a little slack and consider it just an observation), but they also offer a choice of healthful, good quality breakfasts and lunches along with a good selection of teas and straight up coffee.
At this particular café, they have two options for their soup of the day. There is usually a cream-based and a broth-based choice; both taste excellent, though the broth-based one is a more healthful option. They have a choice of breads to suit any taste, ranging from white to wheat to multi-grain. Many customers choose one of the whole grain offerings, thereby making an excellent choice. They offer fruit smoothies, some better choices than others, but if you have one of these, at least you are getting some fruit. They offer baked oatmeal cups that look like a muffin but have all natural ingredients and pack a lot of nutrition into an easy to transport package. Of course, they offer muffins as well; but it’s hard to choose wisely when it comes to something that is little more than a cupcake with a good marketing department.
Eating meals out is considered by most experts to be a diet buster. There are films dedicated to that idea such as “Super-Size Me” and “Fat Sick and Nearly Dead.” I won’t disagree that many people make horrendous choices while looking at a menu as well as while walking down a grocery aisle. On the upside, we have an abundance of food choices; on the downside, we have an abundance of food choices. This conundrum forces us to educate ourselves to make good choices in restaurants and in grocery stores from among the nearly overwhelming options available to us.
It’s easy to blame the food industry for so many of us being overweight and unhealthy, and I’m not going to defend them (too much) since they are our second worst enemy regarding our health–after ourselves. We do need to accept that they are just selling us what we want even if that isn’t the easiest thing to admit. We produce a lot of food on this planet, and while some farming practices are better than others (I’m not going to argue about genetically modified vs. organic, since that would most likely go very negative, so perhaps another time), there is a lot of food available. I saw a statistic that the United States alone produces enough food to supply every person in the world with 2,000 calories per day, yet people continue to literally starve to death or are nutritionally starving despite taking in an excessive number of calories.
Of course, here in the United States, we are in a position to take advantage of our (mostly) safe and abundant food supply. By educating yourself and then applying that knowledge to your food choices, you can eat healthful and delicious meals whether you are at home or in a restaurant. It’s not that hard, and the benefits are huge.
Gyms and the Fitness Industry
I could start with a negative observation about how the fitness industry is just out to get your money, but I said I wasn’t going to go negative, so I won’t do that. I’m going to talk about what you can do to improve your fitness without investing much money at all–just time and effort.
“Get out and get moving.” I could just stop right there and that would solve 90 percent of our health and fitness woes. We sit too much and move too little; that’s just an observation, not a negative judgement. We sit in our vehicles, we sit at work, we sit at our entertainment venues, we sit at home; we live in a very sedentary culture.
The great thing about this situation is that you can fix it quite simply by just getting up and walking every so often. Research has found the optimal amount of time to walk per hour is about 10 minutes, but that number isn’t really all that important. The important thing is to move. If you can get up every 15 minutes and walk for 2 or 3 minutes, that would be great. If you can manage 5 or 10 minutes every hour, that would be fantastic. If all you can manage is to stand up and do a couple of squats and stretch your entire body a couple of times a day, even that would be good. The important thing is just to move; that would solve so many problems.
Obviously, in addition to daily/hourly movement, regular cardiovascular and strength training would be a great thing to do as well. Running, swimming, and hiking don’t cost much, and bodyweight exercising is free. If you have kids, take them to a playground and rather than sit and poke at your phone, play with them. There’s nothing like running around, giggling, and acting silly with children to get your heart rate up, your head clear, and your priorities straight.
Making It Work
If you find yourself doing things that don’t make you happy, healthy, and fit, take a step back and find out why. If you don’t feel well, look at what you are putting into your body, and make some changes. If you moan and groan every time you move, figure out how to get more activity in your daily life and you’ll see almost immediate improvement.
If you are fit, healthy, and happy, keep it up and spread the word. If you are in a position to make a positive contribution by helping those who are struggling with exercise or diet, then do so. Simply by being a good example, you can show others how to make better decisions. If you have specialized knowledge about health, fitness, food, or cooking, share what you know. You’ll benefit as much as they do, and who knows, you might build some momentum and get even more people on the happy and healthy bandwagon.
Build and maintain good habits and a good attitude, and watch the positive effects that these simple changes make in all aspects of your life and in the lives of those around you.
… Hey, I stayed mostly positive, too.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.