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Exercise and Fitness Update

Back in June, I blogged about my decision to begin exercising every single day. Over four months have gone by, and the time seems right for an update.

I did end up missing a day in July, after 18 weeks straight of exercise. I didn't mean to -- I was traveling, was tired from lack of sleep, and thought at the time that I had walked enough that day to count. When I thought about it a few days later, I realized that the walking hadn't been nearly enough, so I counted the day as a miss. I've missed two more days since then. Both were deliberate -- days on which I felt bad for some reason and didn't feel up to powering through it. In each case, I felt much better the next day and resume my normal workout schedule, so I assume I made the right decision both times. That makes three days off in the last 31 weeks. I'm averaging just under an hour of exercise every day (59 minutes per day, to be exact, since I began). So how is it going?

The good news is that my physical condition continues to improve. My resting heart rate keeps falling, and it's taking more and more effort to get my heart rate up during exercise. I can tell from playing soccer that I'm faster than I was at the beginning of the year. And I'm fairly sure I'm stronger than I've ever been, based on how much I can lift now.

But perhaps the best news is that -- as I noted in my previous entry -- exercise is now a way of life for me. It's what I do, every day. The two days I deliberately took off were difficult decisions for me. I agonized over each of them. And there have been many more days that I felt low for one reason or another but never considered skipping exercise.

On the negative side, while I was losing about a pound a week through late July, I've plateaued and haven't lost any weight since then. I can tell from my clothes that I'm continuing to lose inches -- in fact, I have a large stack of too-large clothes in the back of my car, waiting to be dropped off at the Goodwill store later today. But that's a slow process, and I have weight yet to lose, so I have to get on track. I've been doing research on my own, and talked with the nutritionist at my gym, and have a multi-point plan that I'm starting to implement:

  • Interval training. I had settled into a routine of 60 minutes or so on the elliptical, always set to level 18 (out of 25). The problem is that as my aerobic fitness increased, my heart rate went down. I had metabolic tests done at the gym and found that my body is now accustomed to working efficiently when my heart rate is at 70-80 percent of maximum. This means I need to spend time with my heart rate at 80-85 percent of maximum, which in turn means interval training. I started a couple of weeks ago and can definitely see the difference when I'm on the elliptical machine.
  • More weight training. I've been good about lifting weights at least twice a week, but I need to be more consistent about lifting at least three times a week. There's abundant evidence that weight training in combination with cardiovascular training is the best way to become (or stay) fit. This has been difficult due to my travel schedule, but I think I'm on track now.
  • Better nutrition. I've been careful about how much I eat, but not necessarily about what I eat. I'm not a junk food junkie, but I'm definitely a quick food junkie. I enjoy cooking for other people, but not for myself alone. As a result, far too often I've come home from work and had cereal (healthy organic cereal, but cereal just the same) for dinner. Or a few energy bars, or a protein shake. Not good. I haven't made the jump to cooking for myself yet, but what I have done is started buying healthier ready-made frozen entrees from Trader Joe's, so there's always something in the freezer that's healthy, balanced, and can be ready in a few minutes. I'm also making a point of eating more salads, as well as servings of fruits and vegetables. This is coming along.
I'm also considering lowering the amount of calories I allow myself each day, but I have a trip to Paris coming up in a couple of weeks, and so I think I'm going to wait until after that to do so. (Though I will be hitting the gym while there -- there looks to be a beautiful facility just a few blocks from the apartment in which I'll be staying.)

One more potential change for me is to introduce more variation into my cardiovascular workouts. With the hot, humid summer we had here in North Carolina, bicycling dropped off my list. That left me with one soccer game each week and six days of elliptical training. I haven't seen any studies showing the effect of more or less variation in workouts, but my hunch is that more variation must be a good thing, if for no other reason that it leads to working more and different muscle groups, rather than the same well-trained muscle groups over and over again. The weather is beautiful here now, so I'm going to go back to bicycling once a week, and I'd like to take up swimming once a week as well. I'm also considering running again -- my knee isn't great, but after months of self-guided therapy (based on current research papers), it's doing better, and I think I might just be up to a run once a week.

In the end, I'm as convinced as ever that exercising every day is a good thing. At least it has been for me.


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