Being the Most Fit in My Life in My Forties
I lost 50 pounds by my forties. And I feel the best I’ve felt in years.
It has been quite a journey, and my purpose of sharing this isn’t to tell you how great I am. I’m not that great. Instead, I hope you will see that anyone can achieve a healthy lifestyle by taking small steps, day by day. Yes, you can. I’m sharing my story in hopes to inspire others who want to be healthier and fit but need a little motivation and hope.
I wasn’t always unhealthy. From my late teens to my early twenties, I was very fit. But, I had sustained an injury that was never treated, and it only caused deeper issues in my body and, eventually, chronic pain. As a result, by my mid-twenties, I had to stop going to the gym, running, everything. And, I started gaining weight.
In my early thirties, I was at the heaviest I had ever been.
And, I was shameless. During those years around New Year’s, when people would start talking about resolutions, I used to half-joke, and say that mine was simple: Get fatter than last year! It stopped being funny when it actually happened. Eventually, I topped out at 205 pounds. I was fat.
Not only was I overweight, I was very unhealthy. I didn’t exercise. I ate poorly. And, worse yet, I didn’t care. As I pause and wonder why I didn’t, I think it was because I was going through an extremely difficult season of life. I struggled with over a decade of chronic pain, and it was wearing on me. And, I was directionless in my life. I got fired from the only job I was qualified for, and I felt lost.
A radical decision made me.
After reading a biography on Abraham Lincoln and Cornelius Vanderbilt and learning that both of them ate very little, I was inspired to cut fifty percent of my diet. So, whatever I would usually eat I cut that meal in half. Four tacos went to two. A whole sandwich went to a half. You get how that works.
At first, I was hungry all of the time. You know that kind of hunger that causes you to start looking at that leftover slice of pizza in the trashcan as a possible meal. That was me. After a few months of that, I lost about thirty pounds.
I weighed less and was no longer obese. But, I still wasn’t very healthy, and I still felt terrible. I hadn’t done any cardiovascular work or strength training. I didn’t want to do the work. I still didn’t care that much about my health to go through the pain of working out and breaking bad habits. And, my chronic pain didn’t get any better, but I started to get the feeling that I needed to do some kind of exercise to improve.
I got to the core.
And, I thought a stronger core could alleviate my pain. The pain was always there and was unbearable some days. After going to at least a dozen doctors, they all said I was fine. I wasn’t. I had to do something, anything to help myself. So I started to do some core exercises. Calling it exercise is being generous: I just did a crunch or two, maybe three on the days I felt like it. That might have been two to three times a week.
Around the time I started my fifty percent diet, I met my wife for the first time, and we started dating. After nine months, we got married. And, she was very active (and still is). She would work out at a gym most days, and she got a membership for me, hoping I’d join her. I didn’t. And, I gradually stopped my fifty percent diet and started eating more.
My life change changed my life.
Then my whole perspective on health changed. My son was born. Instead of not caring that much, I was compelled to care. There was another human that needed me to be around. My father died when I was young because he didn’t live a healthy lifestyle. So, I resolved to do everything in my power not to let that happen to my son.
Before our son was born, my wife would walk almost every day, and she would often invite me. But, I always said no. And after he was born, she started walking again. It was winter in St. Louis, and they can be brutally cold. So, she was going to the nearby mall to walk. Then, one day she asked me to join her after she gave birth, and I said yes. She was shocked. We had our baby in the stroller as we walked. It was us and the sixty and seventy-year-olds going around and around. That day we became a mall walking family. But, it wasn’t that simple.
When I was walking, I got winded, even lightheaded. You know, that feeling you get when you exert yourself a lot or run up some stairs too fast. Yeah, well, I got that feeling when I was walking at the mall, in a climate controlled, even grounded, 80’s music playing mall. Even worse, my calves were sore afterward. I was that soft and was tempted to quit. But, I didn’t and continued to walk with my family every day. Eventually, it got easier and even fun. I became a proud mall walker.
You have to level up.
After a few months of that, I decided to challenge myself to run. Early on, my entire body felt like it was on fire even though I had barely run a mile. After six months of running two to three times a week, it was still painful for me (mostly because of my chronic pain), but running got easier. One mile increased to six, and I went from running a ten-plus minute mile to a sub-eight minute mile.
Then I learned about intermittent fasting (IF) from a podcast. IF is basically not eating or consuming any calories for an extended amount of time (like twelve to sixteen hours) on a regular or semi-regular basis. On the Tim Ferriss show, he was interviewing this 80-year-old, Dr. Arthur De Vany, talking about how to reverse aging. I thought, “Reverse aging sounds good.” So, I listened. I’d never heard of De Vany or seen him (I googled him up afterward, and he’s very fit, especially for an octogenarian). He talked about the benefits of fasting and how it helps the body stay stronger, fitter and slows the aging process.
The idea of fasting on an ongoing basis scared me. I come from an immigrant family, and my mother, as a child, lived through war and famine. And she fed us three square meals a day, every day of my life until we left home. So, I saw eating when I was hungry as a necessity. But, if fasting was going to help me get healthier, I was going to try it. So, I started fasting every day except from Saturday afternoons until Sunday after dinner. IF improved the way I felt, and I got even more fit.
Here are some reflections on my new image.
I marvel at the fact that I was even able to live a healthier lifestyle. Here are some reflections from my process.
I couldn’t change my body and health until my mind changed. Before I started this journey, I didn’t care that much about health. I was actually hurting myself by getting fatter. Then, after my son was born, my thinking changed. My mind had to get into a healthier place before I was ready to make my body better. I had to make a decision to get fit. And, that started a virtuous cycle, because my mind got stronger and healthier as my body did from the exercise and eating good, clean food.
It was an incremental process. I took one step at a time. I went from a few crunches a day when I felt like it to doing multiple sets every day over nine years. Getting fit has been a marathon, not a sprint. And I had to be patient with myself. I couldn’t rush the process, but I also pushed myself to progress. My process and workouts may not fit everyone, but it is a process to get fit. And, the one thing you can’t do is quit. Don’t stop. Keep going. It can evolve, slow down, change; but don’t quit. Making the initial decision to get healthy is never enough, you have to keep making it.
For me, getting fit required me doing things I really hate until I didn’t hate them as much. Running just hurts me. I don’t mean that I have an injury or that I’m getting injured when I run. It’s just the pain of moving my body vigorously for thirty-five minutes when I’d rather be inside lying in bed reading a book. Fasting isn’t fun either. I love to eat whenever I want. But, the truth is after I run and fast, I feel great. And, now, they are habits. And just because it’s a habit doesn’t mean I don’t want to quit. I have a twinge of temptation to eat breakfast or not work out almost every day. I just went for a run this morning, and still, I had to fight myself to get out there because I’d prefer to stay in bed. But, I go. I run. And, I feel great.
I attribute a lot of my success in this to God giving me a wife who is active and loves routine. If she didn’t force me to start walking and encouraging me, I would have never kept up with my regimen. And, she’s incredibly regimented, which helped me do the same. When I don’t feel like running, I know that my wife is doing her exercises that day without fail. So, I do mine. We don’t work out together, but having someone help enforce the practice is critical to maintaining the momentum of getting healthy and staying fit.
You, too, can get healthy, even in your forties, even with chronic pain. You don’t need a gym membership, all you need is a mat, a little motivation. It starts with making the decision to get fit. I didn’t start big. I started small. With a crunch or two when I felt like it. Before I was a runner, I was a mall walker. If you are patient with yourself, and gradually change your habits, you can be fit. You may get winded by walking in the mall, but don’t let that stop you. It just takes a little bit of work to get better and better.
I don’t know if I’m reversing aging, but I do feel great.
You can, too.
Originally published at johnpa.com on August 11, 2018.