How Fit are You?

[Note: The following was first published in the July 2012 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]

Copyright © 2012 Don H. Meredith

“Why do you do it?” my neighbor asked from the top of his driveway where he was clearing brush.

“Because it feels good when I quit,” I quipped while slowing to a stop. I was doing my every-other-day jog around the country developments as part of my personal keep-fit program. I knew I was an enigma among my neighbors who didn’t know me well. I was the older, slightly over-weight guy who liked to jog or ride a mountain bike almost daily. So, the question did not surprise me.

“I like to stay in shape,” I said. “I hike and hunt and jogging keeps me ready to go.”

“Working around here does that for me,” he said. “I don’t have time to run.”

I smiled and continued on my way. I had heard his excuse before from others who had questioned my fondness for personal abuse. Of course, I don’t consider it “personal abuse” and I realize everyone has differing priorities and ways to stay fit if that is a priority. Nonetheless, some people feel obligated to tell why they don’t workout.

Statistics indicate that staying fit is not a priority for many people. Lives are busy and other things get in the way, such as work, family and indeed working around the house. As a result, obesity rates are rising and it is now predicted that for the first time in modern history our children or grandchildren may not live as long as we do.

Our technology has not helped. Engines of all types do a lot of the work we used to do manually around the home, farm and work place. You would think this would free up some time but our electronic technology steps in to ensure we can take our office work home and further avoid physical activity.

My obsession with working out began for me a long time ago. As a teenager I was fascinated with the Sierra Nevada of California, one of the highest and steepest mountain ranges in North America. Each summer I organized backpacking trips to one area or another in that range to fish its crystal-clear high-mountain lakes or climb one of its impressive peaks (e.g., hiking the John Muir Trail). I quickly learned that physical fitness must be a priority of mine if I wanted to enjoy those trips. Hiking up a mountain trail at altitude quickly taxes any body, let alone one that has not kept fit.

Fitness was one of the reasons I played high school football. That sport ensured that I spent two-hours each and every school day working out under controlled conditions where “I don’t feel like it” excuses were not tolerated. The coaches made sure a good portion of those workouts included wind sprints and other running drills that built endurance. I soon learned that the fitness I gained over the summers hiking in the mountains spilled over into the football season.

Over the years, jobs and other responsibilities often got in the way of my fitness programs. However, it wouldn’t take long for me to feel guilty about it and seek a remedy. There were times when I fell right off the wagon completely, not working out for weeks or months, but soon regretted it when I took my first strenuous hike or other activity.

As one gets older, your overall health becomes more of a concern. You want to live as long and as healthy as possible, but age takes its toll on the body. For example, you don’t recover as quickly from injury or intense physical activity as you did in your 20s. What I have also noticed, however, is that because I workout regularly, my annual medical checkups are usually pretty positive. My heart is in great shape and my blood work is good. My doctor tells me my physical activity has a lot to do with it, and that it also helps keep my immune system tuned up to fight disease.

Measuring Fitness
So, how do you know what kind of shape you are in? There are many ways to evaluate your physical fitness. Most have to do with measuring your heart rate after some sort of activity. Physical fitness really means cardiovascular fitness. If your heart, lungs and blood vessels can handle a certain amount of stress, chances are excellent the rest of your body is in good shape as well. Perhaps the most common fitness test is the Step Test, where you step up and down on a step or stair for a period of time (e.g., 3 minutes) and then measure your heart rate. You then compare your rate with a chart that shows where you stand in terms of cardiovascular endurance. For a list of a variety of step tests and procedures go to the TopEndSports website.

Shaping Up

Don on Mountain Bike

Cycling is an excellent way to get exercise. It’s easier on the joints than jogging and raises your heart rate while covering more ground.

In terms of getting into shape, there are many options. What is important is finding activities that you will enjoy. Yes, I said enjoy. Getting fit should not be a hardship. If you look at it as a hardship, you will not do it consistently. I like to run (or more precisely, jog) but running is not the only thing you can do. Cycling is an excellent activity that covers a lot more ground than running, is easier on the joints and is something you can do with your family. Walking is also good. Studies have shown that walking can be just as beneficial to your health as running; and again, it is easier on your joints.

How much should you do?
Often when people realize how far out of shape they are, they seek a quick fix by trying to do too much too soon. This can cause such pain and discouragement that it becomes very easy to find excuses not to workout further.

First of all, if you are over 40 or have had any signs of heart disease, get a medical check-up and let your doctor know what you are planning. Second, start slowly! Perhaps begin by walking to the corner store, or using the stairs instead of the elevator. Take a walk at lunch hour, or when you get home. Involve the family, especially your children . Exercising with a group promotes consistency. Third, slowly increase the distance/duration of the activity. Anything that comfortably increases your heart rate is beneficial. Fourth, keep at it! Exercising once does nothing; exercising three or four times a week, every week for months and years, that’s what gets you and keeps you in shape.

Make it a priority!
It’s easy to make excuses not to do something that takes some effort. But the “I don’t have time” excuse just doesn’t hold water. Of course you have time. How important is it to you to be able to do outdoor activities with your family, friends, hunting/fishing partners? How important is it to live long enough to dance at your grandchild’s wedding? How important is it to set an example to your children and grandchildren about how one should live one’s life to the fullest? If any one of those things is important to you, then you can find time to maintain a level of healthy fitness.

Here’s an earlier article I wrote about the subject: Hunting the Healthy Heart.

Interested in reading an award-winning outdoor adventure novel? Check out  The Search for Grizzly One and Dog Runner.


About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I wrote a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine, and have published articles for several other magazines.
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One Response to How Fit are You?

  1. Pingback: Standing Up for Writing | The Practical Writer

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