What?! I Have to Eat Healthy AND Exercise?
News Flash: A healthy vegetarian diet does not make you physically fit.
SavvyVeg is living proof that you can be a long-time vegetarian or vegan and still be physically unfit.
Until my mid-forties, I never thought about exercise because I was hyper-active at least 12 hours a day – raising children, doing housework, gardening, cooking, making art, doing yoga, dancing, swimming, walking miles at a time, running, lifting etc – all in a days work. I tended to LOSE weight, mainly because I didn’t have that much time to eat. Those were the good old days!
Then I hit menopause, and about the same time, I stopped being a free-roaming housewife/artist, and became a desk jockey. That’s when the pounds started to pile on and I lost what modest muscle tone I had.
Now I’m 65, and my diet is healthier than it’s ever been in my life. I weigh 30 lb less than I did at 58, have no major health problems, and I look good for my age. But I spend too much time sitting, at my computer, or reading, and I’m not in great shape.
Until very recently, I’ve never been able to do even one girl push-up. I do a very low key yoga routine for a few minutes, most days. I can swim 2 laps in a small pool. On my infrequent visits to the gym, I go for the lowest weight settings, and the easiest workouts because that’s all I can manage. I can walk a mile, but it seems like a long way. One hour of gardening wears me out. My posture has always been S-shaped.
I know that if I don’t do something NOW about my physical condition, I’ll be a feeble bent-over old woman in 10 years. That’s not what I want for the rest of my life.
I’ve been exercising more the last few months than at any time in the past five years, my waist has shrunk 2 inches, and I can now do one girl push-up. Of course that’s only the beginning.
I secretly want to be one of those 75 year olds you see in ads, who look their age from the neck up, but have the bodies of 25 year old body builders from the neck down. Only I want the female version, nicely toned but not scarily muscled.
I know its possible to have a body like that, but you’ve got to spend half your time in the gym, lifting weights. And the rest of your time in other activities, such as running or bicycling hard for miles & miles every day, or doing 3 hour sessions of hot power yoga. I’ve got other things to do with my time – like eat, sleep and work on Savvy Vegetarian.
Realistically, I’d be glad to have decent posture, get rid of my arm flaps, have a firm instead of a squishy belly, be able to walk briskly for a couple of miles without needing a nap, garden for 2 or 3 hours without pain, lift my 3 year old grand-daughter without putting my back out, and avoid osteoporosis, diabetes, dementia and other conditions common to advancing age. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask!
There have been times during the last 7 years when I conscientiously exercised – walked, swam, went to classes, did yoga daily, cut out sugar, fat, chocolate & white flour (they always seem to go together). I’m farther ahead now than I was to start with, but not where I should be, because I would always backslide.
I think that exercising for most people is like dieting. It’s something you do for a while and then you stop, because it’s not part of your life, and you always will go back to your real life.
I’ve realized that I have to change my life to change my body, because my body is a result of the life I live. And to change my life, I have to change the way I think about my life.
That’s something I always sort of knew, but it was brought into sharp focus when I reviewed the book ‘Drop the Fat Act and Live Lean’ by Ryan Andrews – about eating healthy as a lifestyle with the side benefit of weight loss. That idea applies equally to fitness, i.e. ‘Drop the Feeble Act and Live Strong’.
Is fitness with visible muscles possible for a woman my age? Hell Yes! I’m 65, not 95!
My great-aunt Kate was still going bowling at 100, and I must have some of her genes inside me. I’m practical, optimistic, highly motivated – I know I can do whatever I need to do. Most important, I know what I MUST do to get physi-cally fit – and stay that way for the rest of my life.
But I admit I can’t do it by myself, and it’s good to have help. In my off-and-on quest for fitness, I’ve learned from reading books and articles, going to various classes, listening to other (fitter) people, plus taking care of my body in various ways.
One of the first helpful books I read was The Ab Revolution, No More Crunches, No More Back Pain, by Dr. Jolie Bookspan. I first read it about 6 years ago, and recently re-read.
As Dr. B. explains so well, it’s all about body mechanics – how you do, as much as what you do. The picture on the cover is kind of silly, as are a few others inside the book, but I can handle hokey pictures for life-saving words. Reading The Ab Revolution was the first time I ever understood what I was doing wrong with my body, and what I was doing TO it. I was so excited to know that I could actually do something about it. And it was pretty simple!
That understanding led me to Rolfing. I had 10 sessions with my friendly rolfer, who re-arranged my body parts while smiling sweetly, talking softly, and laughing merrily. Never has torture been so enjoyable! And beneficial. At the end, I was 1/2 inch taller, and my body could actually do the things I wanted, like stand up straight and balance on one foot. It may be time for more Rolfing.
Something else that has stayed with me is Yoga for a Healthy Back class, given by Eva Norlyk Smith and Terry Smith . Their classes introduced me to the practice of gently stretching my body into the shape it should be for optimal health and fitness.
When I spend a few minutes daily doing the back exercises I learned from Terry & Eva, everything else I do is easier, less painful, and I’m far less likely to injure myself. I’m also much more likely to proceed to the aerobic and strengthening exercises.
I love yoga, it’s my favorite way to exercise, and I especially love Mountain Pose, which I do throughout the day. It reminds my body what good posture feels and looks like, and it’s the basis for every other activity.
Other forms of exercise take me out of myself and away from my computer to other people and fresh air. I do weight bearing exercises, walk, or swim, with friends. That and classes are great for support, encouragement, and a social life. I found some great exercises on Pinterest, now on my Healthy Lifestyle Tips board (love Pinterest!).
What finally pushed me to a lifetime fitness commitment was an article by Dr. Gabe Mirkin, on the dangers of sitting too much. This isn’t the first time he’s written about this, and I even posted his article way back then. But this time I was ready to hear the wake-up call.
One unwanted side effect of my off-and-on fitness efforts is pain and stiffness.
My chiropractor and my massage therapist are life savers. It’s so much easier to exercise when my head is on straight, my hips and shoulders are level & loose, and my channels are clear. If I garden over-enthusiastically, or wreck my neck somehow, I know they’ll fix me. And Amla Berry tablets are wonderful for easing pain, helping build muscles, and many other benefits.
Another effect of pursuing fitness is that I’m more conscious of what I eat, because I can see the results right away.
If I eat dairy or sugar, I’m stuffed up, cranky, constipated and my joints hurt, so I’m less likely to exercise. If I over-eat, I’m dull and lethargic the next day, so ditto.
If I eat mostly good organic unprocessed food, like tons of veggies, beans & lentils, whole grains, nuts & seeds, then I feel clear and energetic. I WANT to get down on the floor and roll around, or go for a walk, swim, garden, even hit the gym!
If I get fresh air and exercise every day, then I’m really hungry for my meals, and my digestion is better, so I’m absorbing more nutrients. Plus I’m tired in the evening. I have to go to bed and sleep 8 hours instead of staying up late reading, feeling crappy the next day and good for nothing much.
Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t turned into Ms. Fitness Fanatic. I get that if this is going to last, I have to be balanced about it.
I still work every day at my computer, but only four hours on average. Some days, I don’t work at all (that’s new!). I’m a word addict, so I still read books – one a week, not three. I’ll always be a veganish vegetarian. But I’ll never go back to sitting on my butt for 12 hours a day.
Will I forget my fitness resolutions and backslide again? Maybe. I think getting fit is like being a beginning vegetarian. You tend to go back and forth until you’re established. The point is to persevere. I know I’ll always be more on than off my fitness program, because I want to be clear minded and doing yoga at 102. (sorry Aunt Kate – no bowling)
Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian