2013 New Years resolutions pt. 1: Sound body

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions. No I don’t plan on clogging up your gym for a month or two before I give up on my hopeless New Year’s resolutions in a fit of self loathing where I consume three pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in one sitting and cry myself to sleep.

But I do like to try to better myself each and every year. I don’t believe in standing still. And I do believe that New Year’s resolutions should be well thought out, doable and be something that will make you stronger for the future.

For me, I believe in both a sound body and mind. My resolutions will encompass the usual trying to be healthier, but, I believe more importantly, trying to improve myself as a person and expanding my mind. This is part 1 of my resolutions, focusing on the body. And luckily, I own weights and have a gym in my building and believe in exercise that doesn’t involve a gym, so your gym space is safe.

Vanity is not the driving force with me. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I am no longer a college student. As I get older, however, health is something that concerns me more and more. Living longer, healthier and happier is something that I want to work on.

Walking may be the healthiest activity a human can do. It helps stave off cognitive decline, helps build and maintain muscles (particularly in the legs and hips, important for avoiding dreaded lower-body fractures as we age), gets blood moving and doesn’t put stress and wear and tear on joints like running and some other activities. And walking is something that be done every day for miles, without needing to take days off. Walking is something that can be incorporated thoroughly in human life.

Human beings shouldn’t need gyms to be active. The healthiest places on Earth, as measured by longevity, don’t have a culture of gyms. The very idea that you’d need to go somewhere to get exercise would blow their minds.

Exercise, moving — living — is something that must be done daily. Going to the gym three days a week and running five miles while being sedentary the rest of the walk and driving everywhere is not healthy. It’s better than nothing, but not by that much.

I do get plenty of movement by walking places, using public transportation, owning a German Shepherd/lab mix in an apartment who needs lots of walks and not using a car. But if you really want to push yourself you need data. You need to pick up a Fitbit or something similar that will tell you how much you are moving and set goals.

Hitting and exceeding your goals will cause you to set bigger goals and beat those as well. Some days you’ll check your Fitbit and realize that you’re about 2,000 steps short of your goal. Having this data will help you realize that you need to get more activity in. These little reminders really add up over the course of a year.

My daily goal for my Fitbit is 13,000 steps (6-6.5 miles), but some days I get more and some less; the real key is to try to average 13,000 steps a day over a seven-day period. I’d like to make sure that I get 10,000 steps a day no matter what and have more 15,000 and 20,000 step days (and I’d like to get that 25,000 step badge this year). I need to make sure that I commit myself to being active, even when I’m at conferences or visiting relatives in walking-unfriendly places.

Traveling to places with little walking infrastructure is the first thing that torpedoes a walking goal. Want to be active in a place like that? Off to the gym for you. You’d be surprised at how much of America is incredibly unfriendly to walking, running and biking, but these are just just challenges that will eventually morph into excuses, and I’m committing to more movement in my daily life.

I walked 2,138 miles with my Fitbit last year (some days I didn’t have a Fitbit after my original broke, but I’m back at it with my Fitbit One). I’d like to best that amount, and 2,250 miles in a year seems like a reasonable goal. 2,500? That will take a commitment to more hiking and running, in addition to walking. It’s at least a stretch goal to keep in mind.

While I was physically active in 2012, my strength training fell off the map once I started graduate school. Working full time and taking multiple classes doesn’t leave a lot of time for the gym. I also have a wife, a condo to keep up, a dog, two cats and a fish. But excuses are excuses, and there is no excuse for doing zero strength training in several months.

That time away from strength training will eventually become several years, and I’ll be curved over with a weak hunched back. And my shoulders will hurt from being on the computer too much. And I won’t be able to lift heavy things over my head anymore. I’d like to avoid this future.

Strength training serves several key purposes. Once we hit our 40s (perhaps as early as late 20s), we begin losing muscle mass every year. Strength training can reverse and help prevent this decline. Strength training not also builds strong muscles, but it also strengthens bones, making fractures less likely, particularly as we age.

For a desk jockey like myself who does a lot of writing both words and code, strength training is also what prevents me from having RSI and shoulder problems. It also prevents people from having a hunched back. I make it a point of emphasis to do a lot of back and shoulder exercises, and to make sure that my ability to do a row (a back exercise) is similar to my ability to bench press.

If you have a physical job where you are lifting and moving things, strength training really isn’t that important. You’re naturally building and maintaing muscle. But for those of us whose jobs consist of punching keys and clicking buttons, we don’t have that luxury. I have to lift weights, or I am setting myself for a frail old age. Heck, maybe even a frail middle age.

I’m taking two more classes this semester and plan on this work load until I complete my degree. I’ll be fitting in my full-time job in there too. It’s unrealistic to think that I’ll be able to go the gym frequently with this kind of work load, but I do have weekends and nights without class.

I want to commit to do some kind of strength training at least twice a week, whether it be a big dumbbell and barbell workout or a quick kettlebell workout. You can do a pretty great kettlebell workout in about 10 minutes, because with kettlebells you spend most of your workout moving weights, unlike other weights where you spend most of your time resting in-between sets.

There is one negative of strength training: flexibility. Lifting weights can often make muscles tight. Strength training has left me with tight hips that bother me from time to time. Stretching and yoga help alleviate these issues.

If I’m going to make a renewed commitment to lifting some kind of weights at least twice a week, I need to make a commitment to stretching and yoga. Stretching on a daily basis only takes a few minutes and it can be done before bed, on break at work, in the elevator and all kinds of places.

Yoga requires a bit more work and time. Committing to doing yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week will help keep me flexible. Yoga is also good for balance, and it will make my balance better, which isn’t a concern now, but will be as I get older.

Trying to commit to going to the gym on a daily basis is a recipe for burnout. Unless you love the gym, I don’t recommend it. This is why I have a Fitbit and all this lovely data about my activity, and why I try to incorporate walking into my daily activities. I walk to get groceries, to restaurants, to bars, to the library, to shopping stores, on my breaks from work to see Washington, D.C., etc. If you can get in physical activity while doing everyday tasks, you’re way ahead of where most Americans are.

Even make a commitment to get up once an hour and walk around the office. Get some water, go the bathroom, see some friends. Just get up and move.

Once you can get in a lot of movement without ever going to a gym, it makes it much easier to do formal exercise. If you only get around to it once a week, don’t sweat, you’ve already been active for the entire week. Kettlebells in particular are a great way to get some strength training in. They don’t take up a lot of space, can be hidden away and the workouts don’t take a lot of time for measurable results.

The core difference between kettlebells and other strength training regimes is that you combine anerobic exercise with aerobic exercise. Kettlebell workouts are not only measured in how much weight you lift, but rather in how long you do a lift for. I do each exercise for at least one minute straight without stopping.

I don’t count reps. I just keep doing until the timer tells me to stop. Take a 30 second break and start up the next exercise. You primarily progress not be adding more weight but by adding more time. You start with doing a clean and jerk for one minute straight up to doing it for three minutes straight or more. These exercises both build cardiovascular endurance while also adding muscle.

I have two different kettlebells: a 20-pound one that can be used every day for aerobic activities and a 45-pound one more geared for building strength that I need a day off in-between using it to rest my msucles. Yes, I can lift more weight with my adjustable dumbbells that go up to 90-pounds, but a dumbbell workout is a serious commitment to time, and doesn’t give you the same aerobic advantages. I have also found kettlebells being easier on the shoulders, and even helping to alleviate shoulder pain.

When I do lift dumbbells I am concerned about how much weight I’m lifting, and I am trying to get stronger. I believe the two work well together, and can be a good way to build muscle. Kettlebells can be done every day if you want, and because of how fast-paced the workouts are, don’t require a huge time commitment. When I have the time, however, I can spend an hour or more lifting lots of weight.

As office workers, desk jockeys, thinkers, troublemakers we don’t get in great exercise in our daily lives. We have to commit to getting movement in every day.

In a few days, I’ll be back with my part two, where I focus on how I want to better my mind and my skills in 2013.