Today I’m going to piggy-back off of last week’s post and talk about fitness minimalism. Before I get into it, I want to share a little bit about minimalism in general and the impact its pursuit has had on me. I define minimalism as having what I need and love but nothing more. To me, it’s about choosing quality over quantity and learning to be content with what I have instead of always pursuing more. Most importantly, it’s about keeping life simple.
About a year ago I went on a crazy cleaning spree. I went through every room, every closet, every cupboard and boxed up everything I hadn’t used in the past several months. That included clothes, shoes, bags, toys, small kitchen appliances and utensils, and other random stuff. What I could donate I did and the rest I threw in the trash. As a result, my house is less cluttered, I know where things are, and I’m not overwhelmed by the mess in my basement because there is no mess.
I in no way consider myself a true minimalist. I still hang on to too much stuff and should probably repeat this exercise soon. My house is full. Very. Full. But this exercise taught me an important lesson and that is this: When I clean up and free up my space, I am less stressed.
In life, we’re taught by our culture that more is better and the pursuit of more is normal. I argue that less is better and contentment is what we should be pursuing.
Let’s apply this principle to healthy living. You try to work out every day after work, spending a half hour on the treadmill and another half hour lifting weights. On the weekends, you push yourself to do more. You purchase protein shakes and supplements and expensive whole foods. Because you want results, you try CrossFit for a few months, then long distance running, then the TRX and HIIT. You read an article about a detox and the amazing results it promises so you order the product and go through a cleanse every couple of months. What’s best is always changing. There’s always more. Always something to pursue.
How stressful! Trying to keep up with all that makes life complicated. In the end, you’ll probably feel like you invested your time, energy, and money for results that weren’t worth it.
Now consider this lifestyle: Heart health is important, so you run two to three times a week for about 30 minutes. Maintaining muscle mass and strong bones is also important, so you strength train three times a week for 20-25 minutes. You prepare simple, nutritious meals from food purchased at the local grocery store and farmers market. You spend most of your time enjoying life and NOT worrying about your health or keeping up with the latest trends.
To you, both may seem overwhelming with all that exercise and careful eating. But there is a difference between working out regularly doing the types of exercise you enjoy and trying every new workout trend in pursuit of a better, healthier you.
To find the fitness routine that leaves you feeling energized and satisfied, follow these three principles:
1. Do what you enjoy.
If your preferred method of cardio is riding your bike, then ride your bike. Ignore the people who say running is better. If you’re only motivated to hike, then hike often. In the long run, it doesn’t matter what the activity is. As long as you put in the effort and work hard enough to get your heart rate up for an extended period of time, you will benefit from it. You’re better off doing the activity you like than sitting on the couch because you don’t like to do the workout that the experts say is better.
2. Don’t follow every trend.
You don’t need a yoga mat, a treadmill, a TRX, a TotalGym, a home gym, a bike, high-end sneakers, a hiking backpack, a Camelbak, activity trackers, protein powder and other shake mixes, kettle bells, a medicine ball, a gym membership, and other expensive snacks and equipment to be physically fit. Choose one or two things and stick with it. Invest in the right equipment and foods that will help you reach your fitness goals by doing what you enjoy. I primarily run and do bodyweight training so the only gear I worry about is my sneakers. I do what I enjoy and focus on doing those things well.
3. Keep it simple.
I’m not against workout equipment and whole food stores. I’m also not against following an exercise and diet plan suggested by a professional. I am against fad diets, the idea that in order to eat healthy you have to shop at specialized stores, and overwhelming yourself by trying to complete every exercise on every piece of equipment that has ever been recommended. Just stop. Pick the exercises you enjoy, eat whole foods, and avoid processed foods. That’s it. Simplicity and consistency will get you results.
Just like in life, I believe that reducing the amount of clutter you allow into your health and fitness routine will make you feel better and will ultimately help you reach your goals without adding unnecessary baggage to the journey. I’ve said repeatedly how important it is to find exercises you enjoy and stick with them. I truly believe this. But you also need to know that low intensity exercise, such as leisurely walks and lifting light weights, aren’t going to challenge your body in the ways required to get you the results you want. Yes, any activity is better than no activity, but you still have to challenge yourself if you want to improve.
FitTip: To maintain good health for a lifetime, choose the activities that you enjoy the most, do them regularly, and stick with them. When you jump from one routine to another, you may notice changes in certain parts of your body that get you excited. That’s understandable. But unless you enjoy each of those routines and continue to cycle through them for years to come, they’re not going to give you the results you ultimately want. For a strong, healthy future and a body that ages well – with strength and grace – keep it simple and stick with it.