The Road to a Healthy Body and Mind

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By Daniel Ngengi Muturi –

My current training partner recently accused me of going through a mid-life crisis since I have been spending too much time in the gym. I am in my late 40s, so he could have a point. After 45 minutes of weights and an hour of cardio, he told me it was clear that I was looking for something and I did not know what.

But jokes aside, his remark made me ponder. Maybe I crave my youth back and want to be as fit as I once was in my quest to represent Kenya in body building competitions. All I have left now to remind me of the good old days are rusted trophies and faded pictures.

Age can be cruel on our bodies, which perhaps explains why some of us tirelessly go to the gym, day in and day out. As our training schedule gets put on the back burner, some folks even resort to extreme measures such as buttock injections or face lifts or other kinds of lift-up surgeries as the final frontier to keep the years at bay. Sadly, the years creep in and we must increasingly take care of ourselves.

I happen to have a moderate frame but don’t be fooled by it as I have had the opportunity to train under both the best Kenyan coaches and boxers, some of whom are still boxing and going strong. Boxing is a sport that keeps me focused as I bob and weave to avoid direct contact with my opponent. The fact that I have to keep on moving, side stepping, ducking and being fully alert for incoming punches gives me greater satisfaction than an aerobics class. I love to seek openings to deliver a strong blow, which may be a jab, a punch, a hook, uppercut or all delivered in combination. When I box, I am dodging to save my life so I have no chance to slack back and after six rounds of this kind of workout and five rounds of vigorous skipping I am almost ready to call it quits.

However, even with my fitness and fighting background, I have to keep up with new training methods. I personally delight engaging with knowledgeable instructors and young enthusiasts. I find older instructors in many gyms disinterested and bothered with their should-know attitude. I hear similar complaints in the changing rooms from other club members so there must be some truth in them. From the younger trainers and athletes I get to experience a variety of exercises and a level of intensity that is refreshing. They are eager to answer my questions and they absorb everything in equal measures. I suppose that from me they gain wisdom and perspective, a side effect of healthy aging.

Change Your Fitness Routine on a Regular Basis

My advice for those who are physically fit is to get off a routine program, consider occasional changing of trainers, visit a new gym or simply try some new exercise or physical activity. Over the years, I have found this to be quite helpful. After all, one cannot follow the same routine every day. The danger is that you reach a plateau and that exercise becomes counterproductive. A workout program should re-evaluated every six or on a monthly basis.

Most gyms nowadays offer more than just weights, cardio machines and aerobics. If your gym does not offer extras such as yoga, zumba or salsa, find a gym that does and check it out. Besides the training benefits that go with a new routine, you get to meet new people.

Commit to Preventive Medicine

There is another important question to consider: you may be fit but are you healthy? Fit people are getting admitted in health care institutions with terminal conditions that should have been detected earlier. All men over the age of 40 should be aware of the dangers of prostate and testicular cancer. A couple of minutes for a non-invasive PSI blood test could save your life. The same applies to the ladies, when it comes to their annual checkup of cervical and breast cancer.

Other regular checkups should include diabetes and blood pressure. It is shocking to realize that we spend hours in the gym throughout the year but we choose to ignore a 30-minutes annual screening that could save our lives. Health and fitness are about lifestyle, which includes seeking the services of a nutritionist and committing to preventive medicine. Do not forget that you are what you eat, so knowing what is best for your body type and learning how to shop and cook is essential for health and wellness. Also, drink plenty of water. If you think all this is too expensive, consider that it costs significantly less than a pair of Prada shoes or a very good “real” handbag.

Sometimes doctors advice us to go to the gym to relieve stress but what is rarely discussed in the doctor’s office are the reasons that cause the stress. Often these reasons are related to family and personal life. Making personal adjustments goes hand in hand with training at the gym. This means confronting the sources of stress, may they be work, spouse, parents or children.

Learn to Manage your Stress Level

And no I am not suggesting that you quit your job, end you marriage, put the parents in a home or give the children away. However, you do need to get away from your sources of stress once in a while and take an affordable short holiday even alone. As you are aware getting away only temporarily solves the problem but does not get to the source of it. This will give you the distance to see whether you need to make more radical changes in your life and in how you deal with stress. Basically, you need to be emotionally healthy to give your best to those around you.

As we exercise the body we must not forget to do the same with our mind. A lot of people I discuss fitness and socialize with at the gym cannot tell me what the last book they read was. The simple act of reading exercises the mind. If you manage to read two books every month, you are likely to have a more alert and stimulated mind.

What amazes me most is that while we spend so much time striving to be healthy at the gym, we remain spectators at the various marathons and outdoor events. Even though we are not expected to finish with our great elite runners or even run the full or half marathon, we can choose to do the 5km family runs or even a brisk walk for the long distance. This also helps with coordination as most cardio machines are set on a constant motion. Even at the gym, it is advisable that you spend 20 minutes on each different machine, the rower being my favorite because it is gentle on the knees and works the whole body.

The general recommendation is to engage in a 45-minutes work out at least three times a week. So if you spend enough time training regularly, step out doors for a morning jog before pollution takes over, ride a bike on a Sunday and for you all football fanatics kick a ball around with kids, friends or spouse then you are likely to be on a good path. My advice is to engage in an outdoor activity that you enjoy on a regular basis. Fresh air, combined with gym training, is ideal.

Make a Personal Assessment

So how fit are you? Can you survive a 30-minutes of boot camp training, do 3 rounds of three minutes each on boxing target pads or bag, skip for half an hour, cycle for 15 km on an open road or jog 5 km? Always challenge your body because the tendency, for all of us, is to settle for routine, as this is safe.

And do you know what you eat every day? Are you aware of what you put into your body as vital fuel for your life energy? Do you eat enough green vegetables, fruits and can you balance protein with carbohydrates? What kind of oil do you use to cook and what is best for your body type. Educate yourself about nutrition. It is never too late.

And finally how attentive are you to your personal health? Have you had your medical checkups in the last 3 years and have you had or planned for this year’s check up?

Now that the basics are out of the way, it is time to get healthy.

Respect Basic Gym Etiquette

Before you venture into the gym take a shower, use roll-on deodorant since perfumes and colognes tend to be choking and aggravate allergies. Brush your teeth and of course regularly floss, and have a mint or use mouthwash. Clients or instructors with bad breath turn an otherwise enjoyable experience into a dreadful one. Chewing gum is out of the question. Not only does it interferes with breathing, which is an essential component of exercising, I personally think it is off-putting.

If you are the really sweaty type, carry a couple of T-shirts that you can change when needed, and of course shave armpits and other sweaty bits. And in terms of gym etiquette, please do not stare at people for whatever reason, whether you think they are too fat or too skinny. It is rude to do so and you would be better off minding your own workout. Also, be quick to read body language: some people love to chat while others detest it, so move on if you are unwelcome. During rush hours, observe the 20 minutes time limit on all cardio machines. It is a pain to see people waiting when those on the machine getting round to 30 minutes and you can tell with the clock that they have another 20 or so minutes to go, when you encounter such inconsiderate persons find something else to do, do not always go to the gym with a set mind, be spontaneous.

I find that people who wear earphones in the gym, when they walk or engage in other sports are especially prone to accidents. This is because they are unaware of their surroundings and do not hear any warning signs. If you must have that headset on at all cost, have the volume low as constant loud use also damages your ears in the long run. By the way, it is worth noting that earphones are known to have the most germs, along with cell phones, lift buttons, and toilet handles.

Health clubs are public places and should always be left cleaner than what you found. I am often amazed about how often people leave used towels, dirty clothes, and gyms shoes etc. scattered all over the changing rooms. Club attendants can only do so much in between chores, especially during hectic rush hours. Walking around nude between showers, sauna, steam and rest areas makes some people uncomfortable, even more so when gravity has made its presence known. Cover up out of respect for sharing a space with others. This may not be a big deal in some countries, but you are where you are, so being aware of what is appropriate and what is not is advisable.

Daniel Ngengi Muturi, Health Coach. Contact him at ngengi@yahoo.com