My Fitness Journey, Part I

            I am a former smoker. I started around 15 and smoked on and off, into my early thirties. This nasty habit combined with my already high metabolism allowed me to neglect my nutrition for years. My diet is another story and another struggle; one I will address in a separate but related blog. I always had an athletic build and my former job involved heavy labor so staying in shape required no additional effort beyond that. Most of my friends were smokers and had the same terrible food habits that I had. There was one friend that was always attempting to quit smoking, which is a daunting task in a group of smokers. We were certainly more than a little responsible for his repeated relapses with cigarettes but I admired his persistence. He had this beautiful tattoo that said “Love Life” on his arm and that was the credo that he certainly lived by and inspired others to do the same. His life brightened so many others so it’s no surprise that those closest to him experienced such a darkness when he died so young. His death was the catalyst for my own promise to love life more and treat my health better. I vowed to make better choices for myself.

            Exercise became the replacement for my cigarettes. When I had a craving, I picked up dumbbells and worked them until my arms felt like overcooked spaghetti. When I would absentmindedly reach for my pack, I’d drop and do push ups or crunches. I haven’t had a cigarette in almost 8 years; not a single drag. I joined a gym and worked with a trainer for the first year. I was committed to fighting back depression with endorphins & trading a nicotine addiction for a fitness one. Since I was making a major lifestyle change, I wanted to know as much as possible about exercise & nutrition. Working with a professional trainer provided me with a substantial education in both. I got the chance to work with both a female and a male trainer throughout that year and the difference in their perspectives was valuable. They both had different fitness philosophies based on their gender and their individual schools of thought but they also taught me how to figure out what works best for my body & metabolism.

            After my year of fitness initiation, I felt vastly better about where my health was but by no means was I done striving. Now that I knew what I was doing, I could really get to work. I embarked on a serious exploration through research and my own physical trial & error. Research has to be conducted with a critical eye when poring over the abounding landscape of fitness literature, or FitLit. The various opinions & theories are virtually endless and many contradictory. I tried different approaches but always felt a healthy combination of cardio and weightlifting throughout the week was what worked best for me. I need the variation to keep things interesting and keep my muscle memory guessing. I also had to take my problematic joints into consideration. I’d always had tendinitis issues in my knees, and had injured my shoulder a couple of times so I had to be sensitive to these areas and proceed with caution. I’m happy to say I’ve achieved a great deal of progress in strengthening these joints to the point of experiencing almost no pain or issue with them and I can do a hell of a lot more than I could with these joints a decade ago. Their health and function is significantly improved and when you experience this kind of fitness gain, it feeds into sustainable motivation.

            The greatest thing about adopting a fitness lifestyle is that it addressed so many aspects of my life and really helped me cope through some tribulations. I minister to my emotional & mental health with exercise. Besides a regular release of endorphins, feeling healthier makes me happier and looking healthier certainly doesn’t hurt how I feel about myself either. Looking good definitely feels good. Getting older hasn’t been that big of a deal when I feel healthy. Exercise has been, for me the greatest weapon I have against the depression I’ve coped with since I was very young. Dark days have more to do with the weather than they do my emotions these days and that is due in large part to fitness. On rough work days, I release that stress and aggravation at the gym and leave it there. I leave the gym feeling like I did something immensely positive with some really negative emotions. Imagine if we could take all the negative energy in our lives and funnel it into fueling positive outcomes. I’m not saying that the gym is the answer to ALL of my problems but it does help me cope with them by making me stronger, healthier and providing an outlet that garners me invaluable benefits and requires a consistent focus on myself. We have to take care of number one! Otherwise, what good are we to anyone else?

            The physical transformation that I experienced was so much more than skin deep. My cardiac health now is better than it was 15 years ago. Don’t forget that your heart is a muscle and yes, you can make that thing stronger with training. Quitting smoking certainly helped but pushing my tolerance for cardiac exercise is what has seriously increased my stamina and endurance. My muscle recovery time is impressive in comparison to when I began this fitness journey. My cardio fitness score went from average to excellent.  

            This lifestyle change has turned into something I’m extremely passionate and enthusiastic about. Next steps for me include making it official and obtaining my fitness trainer certification as well as an additional educator’s license in physical education. I want to impart the knowledge I’ve learned over the years to others and instill in others positive habits that are beneficial for the whole self. My energy, attitude & work ethic reflect the spirit of what I do and my hope is that I can guide people on their own fitness journey and a path to a healthier life. Stay fit. Stay well.

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