My Fitness Journey
Welcome back guest writer Andrew, who joins us on Fitness Week with a wonderful piece on his personal fitness journey.
I have been an active person all my life. I used to walk almost everywhere, and if it was more than a few kilometers I would hop on my bike and ride there. In fact, I had been known to ride my bike over 35 kilometers to a neighboring city, (and if you’re not sure how far that is it’s nearly twenty two miles) and I was doing that at twelve years old. Things like this calmed down somewhat when I got my first car and started working, but all my jobs were physical and then I joined the army, cementing what I thought was going to be my career for the rest of my life.
What the long walks and bike rides of my youth started, the Canadian Armed Forces honed into a fitness machine. Daily five kilometer (3 mile) runs were the norm, sometimes twice a day, push up contests with friends and hauling equipment, digging trenches, marching and combat training exercises were all routine. However, they took their toll on my body. Ankles, knees, back, concussions, every injury compounding the last, and even with good medical care by the time I was twenty two they added up to enough and, coupled with some other things including fear of a desk job, led to my retirement.
As most veterans will tell you, the military teaches you many things. Living in a civilian world isn’t always one of them and I was ill prepared. Depression became my friend, those five kilometer runs that were so easy for me before, with my damaged knees became four, then two, then none at all. Push up contests stopped as I rarely spent time with friends, and my employment became less and less physical (the desk job I had feared became my reality) making my depression even worse. This sounds like a tale of woe, and it was, but like all good ones there is a happy ending, or at least the start of one.
As all of this is going on more setbacks happened. My father died as a result of surgical complications, and I was thrust into a role that I was all too familiar with–being the rock everyone clung too while they processed their grief. While I usually have no problem being that rock, this time was different. I was making all the arrangements, footing most of the costs until the insurance claims came in and since I couldn’t show my own grief I ended up eating my feelings– and let me tell you, feelings are really fattening. As this ended I thought I was starting to turn a corner, I was walking on my breaks, I’d quit smoking, and started to eat a little healthier. Then I suffered a serious concussion at work from which I am still suffering some effects.
I felt like I was done. I suffered from crushing headaches, any amount physical activity made them worse, I had light sensitivity in the middle of summer so I wasn’t getting any sun which always improved my mood. I lived in my basement with blackout blinds, Netflix, and shopping at 24 hour grocery stores which led to poor food choices again.
Fortunately someone cared. They recommended me to a local gym and when the gym called the person who tried to get me to sign up was persistent and didn’t accept my excuses. When I eventually got myself a gym membership it was because they appealed to my logic and reason, they understood what I was going through and genuinely cared about my recovery and called it that. I didn’t have weight loss goals, I had fitness goals. I didn’t have a diet, I had nutritional planning. I even got a personal trainer to aid in the effort helping me push myself both during my workouts and showing me diet alternatives to foods that I loved.
It’s funny, but by changing some words exercise wasn’t about losing weight or looking good, everything was about building better habits and behaviors. I learned the difference between weight loss and proper fitness, the difference between a pound of fat and a pound of muscle and that numbers weren’t important. The transformation was subtle and it took time but my behaviors did change. I became more accountable, both to my trainer and to myself. I lost weight, I gained muscle, but most importantly I gained confidence. My depression began to subside some, and more than anything else it woke me up. I EVEN ATE KALE!! My journey isn’t complete though, and I still have a long way to go. I’ve had some slips, and I’ve had some leaps and bounds.
What surprised me the most (and I wish I had a better picture to share) was my before and after pictures when my time with my trainer was done. It wasn’t the weight loss, (believe it or not that was only a reduction of about fourteen pounds) it was my posture. I stood tall, I felt confident, and while fitness wasn’t a cure for my depression, it certainly has helped me manage it better.
The important thing to remember if you are planning your own fitness journey is that every journey will be different, what works for some doesn’t work for others. I will always recommend consulting your physician and if you can afford it, a personal trainer. Relax, most of them are not Jillian Michaels from the “Biggest Loser” level mean. They are your support system, your mentor–essentially they are your Yoda. Trust them, trust yourself and reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle because fitness isn’t just exercise, it becomes a part of your day to day–something you look forward to and something that just becomes a part of you. Even now, when my trips to the gym are more spaced out than they probably should be, I still feel confident in my workouts and I know that all those bad habits are behind me and my journey will continue.