How many pull ups can you do? How much can you bench press? How many miles can you run straight through? How many hours of yoga?
These are all things people may ask you in a gym. We have somehow gotten to a place where we look at fitness and health levels as the same thing. Well they definitely are not the same thing. There are many people in gyms and tracks destroying their health by pushing their bodies to the max. We are raised in this country to think that fitness and health are interchangeable. Almost like that person who is thin and has abs is automatically healthy on the inside. “Working Out” is a relatively new phenomenon that we have become somewhat obsessed with in America. Where did this all start?
I can’t pretend to know how we got this way but I know that the fitness industry is a huge part of it. Look at all the supplements, treadmills, gadgets, monitors, weights, dvds, and personal trainers. We did not used to have any of this stuff and we did fine. I just learned that a long time ago they tried to keep women, especially expecting women away from strenuous exercise because they knew what it did to the hormones. So lets look at this from a little different perspective.
What IS “working out?” My definition of working out: expending your own energy to do some form of work. This may be moving a bicycles peddles propelling you forward, lifting a heavy weight off of a rack, or keeping your body cool in the 100 degree weather. So by definition, you must have energy to spend it.
Now this is not a post against exercise. I believe correct exercise is a key to a healthy lifestyle. Our bodies need to be pumped. Circulation needs to flow. Muscle needs to be stimulated. All of these are important. What I’m really talking about here is pushing your body beyond its healthy limits. When you start draining your own energy instead of building it, you may look to your own motivations. Are you trying to get healthy or are you trying to get that superficial “fit look?” I believe that if you eat properly, sleep properly, and exercise moderately, you will get close to that look naturally.
What about “working in?” Working in, on the other hand, are exercises that build or conserve our energy. These are things such as qigong, tai-chi, some light yoga/stretching, very mellow walking, meditation, prayer, etc. These can either be static or very slow-moving. These gather energy from the environment and bring it into your body. The ancient systems of chinese medicine and Indian medicine use these principles. There is a huge overhaul coming in the American “Health System, ” as it is non-sustainable for human health. Chinese and Indian medicine have been around thousands of years and are not going anywhere. If anything, they are probably getting more popular.
They believed that the most important thing was to “gather” energy. This was called “qi” or “prana.” In short, these are things available to us from the environment that most of us forget to tap in to. Things like sunlight, fresh air and water, grounding, good thoughts, laughter, happiness, prayer. All of these things gather energy from our environment and help us become healthy on the inside. So working in was a priority. So how do we formulate an exercise plan that is effective, non-stressful on the body, promotes health, and gets you losing weight or building muscle? I will put out these general guidelines. These are the priorities i believe one should follow when striving for health, fitness, and longevity.
1. Focus on your lifestyle. Clean up the diet, get enough sleep, get enough sun, clean air, and water. Make sure you give yourself time for laughter and play, a spiritual practice, and time alone as well.
2. Take up “working in.” Qigong and Tai-chi are very simple to learn and you feel amazing afterwards. These bring energy into your body and also help relax your mind. Stretching, meditation/prayer, and slow walking are also good forms of working in.
3. Ok. Now that we have a base we can add in some other things. Starting “working out,” maybe add in things such as brisk walking, swimming, biking, hiking, recreational (non-competitive) sports, calisthenics, yoga, light jogging or kayaking. These should be things that you can do for extended periods of time that are not super strenuous.
4. Going up the pyramid, here we can add in bodyweight exercises, some light weights, more strenuous yoga, some non-strenuous sports, and maybe some more challenging biking, hiking, or swimming. Again, the point here is to “exercise,” not to strain and drain yourself. This should be somewhat challenging, but still leaves you feeling refreshed and stronger instead of drained.
Steps 1-4 should be the basis of your program. Make sure that your body can adequately recover from the above before continuing with step #5.
5. This is for performance. Building quality muscle, endurance, sport-specific stuff. The line between training for health and training for performance starts to blur here a bit. Things in this category would include heavy-weight training, endurance running/biking/swimming, and competitive sports. These will build you up a lot IF you have the reserves to do them. Most people are behind on sleep, chugging down coffee, eating bad food, are in bad relationships, etc.
So I know that it is tempting to jump into the heavy stuff. Our society pushes us to do that. Get abs in 4 weeks? Sound familiar? Anyway, remember that “working out” is not always synonymous with good health. Focus on the basics first always. You will see that your body will start supporting your energy levels on a much deeper level that will fuel you if you decide to jump into a serious exercise program. This program will support your health and energy levels with whatever you decide to do in life.