One aspect of preparedness I have fairly well ignored on this blog is that of general health and fitness. Considering how every single day of your life is impacted by your health, this is a massive oversight on my part. I'll post at a later time specifically on medical conditions, for right now I want to talk about general fitness and how I'm working to improve mine.
I know a lot of preppers who are not what I would call fit. I've been one of them, heck, I still AM one of them if I'm completely honest. Whether you're waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse, peak oil, economic meltdown, or a super storm, all your preparedness will be for not if you don't have the physical ability to get things done. I'm not saying you have to be a body builder (actually, that could be really bad!) or an Olympic runner, but having the base level to get through a rough day or 14 until your body adjusts to its new situation would serve you incredibly well. This means building up stamina more than anything else, with additional strength and weight loss being a nice side effect.
Back in January, a friend of mine and I challenged each other to do a Spartan Sprint in August. For those who don't know, the Spartan Sprint is one of the 'fad' obstacle courses that have sprung up in recent years. This is an entry level race of 5k with about 18 obstacles of various sorts thrown in. Things like rope climbing, balance beams, and the like. While I'm not planning to make a career out of running these sorts of things, it served as a wake-up call and goal post for my general fitness. I found myself looking in the mirror and seriously disappointed in the belly bulge I saw there and knowing I had to get into some kind of shape if I was going to survive this race. Of course, I put doing something off for as long as possible.
Age and years of working desk jobs had slowed my metabolism significantly from its insane rate in my teens and 20s. Between high school graduation and the age of 30, I'd put on @15-20 pounds and 5 inches in height. I was thin by any standard, but I couldn't say I was in great shape. I was fighting regularly (both staged and armoured combat, good work outs!) and had enough reserves to bail my body out of whatever it got itself into, but I was putting no further effort into stamina or strength. Now in my middle years, I found myself at my heaviest (215...ok, 220 instead of that svelte 185), lethargic, and struggling with heavy objects. Had the SHTF, I would have had a very rough time hiking with any weight or living off a lower calorie count. As I hit the end of April and saw the race date looming, I knew I needed to get into gear.
While the race was the immediate impetus, general health and ability is my real goal. This meant cardio for improving my stamina and lungs (I'm asthmatic, so this is a big concern for me), dieting to lose excess fat, and strength training to avoid losing muscle mass while dieting and improve overall strength. Quite a lot on paper. One of my problems is that I don't like gyms for this sort of thing. I dislike running on treadmills, I find gyms noisy and often crowded when I want to work out, and I tend to not actually go, defeating the purpose. That meant coming up with a plan that I could do on my own when I could. Since I wasn't going to be using a trainer, it also meant I had to motivate myself to get it all done.
Spoiler alert here - Between the time I kicked this all off at the end of April and the end of July, I've lost 20+ pounds and gained a ton of stamina and general strength. That's just under 5 pounds a month. I'm now putting on muscle mass without putting on fat. I tell you that now only so you'll understand that, yes, you CAN get your own ass into shape. It might add more weight (ha!) to what you read below.
Number 1 on the list was diet. I knew this would be the biggest impact on weight-loss and keeping the weight I didn't want off. I dislike fad diets as I don't think they're sustainable. Making it worse is the fact that I LOVE good food! I'll admit that I looked at things like the Paleo Diet and briefly considered it, but I'm not a fan of denying myself things I want. I prefer, instead, to follow the Julia Child philosophy, "Everything in moderation... including moderation". To top it off, I'm a huge fan of beer. The stuff is incredible, tasty, and so varied I knew I couldn't give it up. I travel a lot for business, especially to Portland, OR, the craft beer Mecca, and cutting it out wasn't going to be an option. Travel also means you don't always get the choice of what/when you want to eat, or you might find yourself somewhere with amazing food you simply MUST try. The only option left was to watch calories.
I don't like counting calories. It used to be you carried a little book around and looked things up, writing down items in a diary or keeping it all in your head. Fortunately, in the smart phone age, it's gotten easier. Friends recommended MyFitnessPal, and app I'd used briefly before that has an easy interface, good website, and massive database of foods. It also lets you set certain targets and goals, which helps tremendously, and accounts for exercise so you don't underfeed on days you work out. I set my daily target a few hundred calories below my needed daily need for maintaining my weight and started plugging away. I made this something I do after every time I eat and it has become habit. I use it less now since my eating levels having become more habitual, but I'll keep using it a few days a week until I've hit all my goals and move into more of a maintenance zone. Time wise, I spend less than 5-10 minutes a day on this app, but I credit it with a major portion of my weight loss.
Truth be told, I have modified some of what I eat, as well. the top thing I did was eliminate soda from my diet. Gone. I actually drink nothing but water and, occasionally, juice at meals. And beer, of course beer. But even then, it's a beer, not beers. This means all my calories are in food to fill me up. I've seriously reduced my complex carb intake as well. Less bread, very, very few donuts, and few sugary treats. This was HARD! My standard breakfast for years on the road has been a Dunkin Donuts coffee (decaf) with cream and sugar and 2 donuts. No more! My breakfast at home is always a smoothie made of apple juice, banana, yogurt, frozen mixed berries, and soy protein. I cannot describe how much I enjoy having this for breakfast. In fact, my company's new office isn't near a smoothie place and I've had to start planning a morning walk while there to get something similar. I do still snack, usually eating things like veggies or peanut butter crackers. I have cake and cookies once in a while, and ice cream even a few times a week. I just eat less of it all than I once did. I don't need to be a garbage disposal, and I don't need to always clean my plate like I did as a kid.
The other half of the equation is getting off my butt and exercising. While exercise is more like 20% of the weight loss equation, it is critical to my overall fitness goals. In many ways, this is tougher than dieting. While dieting was changing existing habits, this requires starting completely new ones. That meant deciding on an approach then sticking to it.
Early in 2012, I decided to try out running. It worked pretty well for me until I injured my knee in May that year and never went back to it. Since I had decent shoes, I carried them with me for, well, months on trips until I finally went out for a run at the end of April. From there, I kept going every other day to get 3 runs in a week. My first few weeks were BRUTAL, but I did 30 minutes each time. I began by walking for 2 minutes, then running for 2. That was tough for me. I built up to 2 walk, 5 run, then walking for 1 minute, then run 7, walk 1, then 15 with a 2 minute break. I was at the end of my 4th week when I realized I could run the full 30 minutes! To make it a little more interesting for me, I noted key milestones, like the first time I ran a full mile without stopping, 2 miles, and eventually 3. I'm excited by the fact that my "lazy day" run is around 3 miles at this point, something I had never accomplished in my life prior to this summer.
Cardio played a big part in my weight loss and overall stamina. I was at a point where I was using my emergency inhaler for my asthma multiple times a day. I was always tired and not sleeping well. In addition, as I watched my calories it proved a big boon as I'd have 3 days a week when I could eat more, but still be under my goals for the day. I now find myself sleeping better, energized all day, and there are even days I don't use my inhaler, even during the summer which is traditionally my worst time.
While I was losing weight, I didn't want to lose muscle, which can be a serious concern. Running helped, but on days I didn't run I started doing a body weight circuit I found at Nerd Fitness. I really liked Steve's approach when I came across it, and his geekiness didn't hurt. Sure, he's making his living off a "gimmick" side of fitness, but his straight forward approach and focus on everybody, regardless of equipment, fits well with mine. I've since picked up his Rebel Strength guide and am following it to build up strength.
So, how'd all this work out? Well, A few weeks ago I ran the aforementioned Spartan Sprint. I didn't "place" or make great time, but I did complete the entire thing. Over 3 miles and 18 very tough obstacles beat the crap out of me, being the most physically challenging thing I've done in my life, but I pulled it off. Not only pulled it off, but decided to go back next year and do better, because I know I can. More importantly, I've gone from this:
I'm not going to win any beauty contests, but I do feel like I can get myself and my family through some tough times if it came to it. Your plan and goals may vary, and they need be something you want to do. If I can get into the best shape of my life at 43, so can you. Do it for yourself, or do it for those who depend on you!