I'm in the Best Shape of My Life. Here's 'Why'...
This is a bit of an odd blogpost to write, as I don’t actively think about how "in shape" I am regularly. However, as I got out of the shower this morning, after an uncharacteristically early workout, (who else hates getting up before 8AM??), I had the realization that I may in fact be in the best shape of my life! I might not be able to run the fastest mile, lift the heaviest weight or weigh-in at the same number my 18-year-old competitive soccer playing self would have.. But I still believe I’m in the best shape of my life. At 28 years old! It took me a bit of pondering to really hone in on why I feel like I’m at my peak.. And then it took me even longer to get to the how. Let me explain.
I have no pain. I can easily go through a yoga flow or a HITT workout without feeling any aches or pains jumping out at me from my joints. This has not always been the case. When training for long distance runs, I’ve suffered from foot and hip pain. When deep into yoga trainings or retreats, my wrists and knees often become inflamed and painful. And at those rare points in my life where I actually attempted to adhere to a diet my stomach was almost always in a mild, hungry discomfort. Today I have none of that. My body gets sore after a workout, but I have not sustained a workout related injury in over 1.5 years. Amazing!
My body does not radically fluctuate. I can’t say my “weight” does not radically fluctuate because I don’t have a scale - ha! Never have. My parents have one that is always 3-10 pounds below reality and that’s helped me internalize how inconsequential and fickle that number truly is. Instead, I’m talking about how my body feels and generally looks. My clothes fit fine, when I look in the mirror, I see about the same body that was there the day before, and when I move through my life I don’t notice radical changes in how my body feels.
I feel strong. I am able to do the things of life that require muscle - like holding up a piece of drywall, restraining a puppy from attacking my old doggie and actually doing a pull-up or two if the crowd is cheering just right. When I kick off a jog, I don’t get cramps in my calves and when I stretch in the morning my muscles (albeit tight initially) are receptive to the movement.
These are my primary reasons for believing I am in the BEST shape of my life. This is how I choose to define it. You are 100% entitled to come up with your own definition of "best shape of my life".
I’ve created a helpful exercise (no movement required) to help you get more clarity around what behaviors you can use to feel your best. Download here:
Now, the how.
What’s different at this stage than at any other previously? I have always been active, with genetics that lead to quick muscle growth and a generally healthy disposition. So… how did I get to this apparently “new” peak that was not achievable in the past? Many small things.. But also a few thing big things, listed in order of importance below. And I believe #1 made up 75% of my results.
#1 :: I said "no, thank you" to chronic stress and the workaholic lifestyle.
Stress creates a really horrific physiological response in our bodies that releases hormones like cortisol and can contribute to high blood pressure and even brain changes linked to anxiety, depression and addiction. There’s some great information and more ~science~ over here written up well by Harvard. Stress also puts us into our sympathetic nervous system (otherwise known as the “fight or flight” response) and focuses our energy on defending ourselves (i.e. taking away energy from our vital life processes like digestion and detoxification). Chronic stress tells our bodies to store fat, harkening back to when we were hunters and gatherers and weren’t sure when we would find our next meal.
Thankfully, I listened to my gut a few years back and decided to quit a job that rewarded me for being chronically stressed and overworked. It was lucrative, but it was SO unhealthy. Even on weeks that felt “balanced” the low key stress hummed in the back of my mind (and body).
Today I still work hard, but have control and make decisions for myself, and for my health.
I also have time for a mindfulness practice (minimum 10 minutes daily seated meditation) and also regularly receive body and spirit work from massage therapists, coaches, and energy healers.
#2 :: I stopped drinking (almost entirely) and have removed processed sugar and preservatives from most of my meals.
Okay, if you know me, you know I LOVE ICE CREAM! YES ALL CAPS! And I actually eat it at least once / week. So, I’m not ever going to be on the black // white train of having something totally in or totally out of my diet. I also enjoy a glass of wine or a beer every other month or so.. However, this is radically different from how I ate and drank over the majority of the last decade of my life, especially during my college and early professional years. Neither of these changes have been made for the sake of my health, they both originated in simply wanting to feel better. I had enough of those “never drinking again” hangovers to finally get it through my skull that this means actually drinking less. And the sugar piece really came to my attention after I did a liver-boosting diet for 21 days in the winter of 2016 that eliminated ALL processed sugar. By doing this I gained the awareness that it was truly the processed sugar in all my foods (not just candy, but also some breads, pastas, crackers, etc.) that led to my historical energy dips and spikes.
#3 :: I found a movement routine that works for me. Am consistent. And let it change.
There are SO many exercise “regimens” in the world whose advertising agencies would lead you to believe you’ve been doing it ALL wrong and you will never have the “perfect body” unless you follow their plan to a T. First, “perfect body” is also known as bullsh*t! Not gonna go there today - but in summary we are conditioned by a hypersexualized society to objectify one specific body type that has been commodified, commercialized and profited off of. It’s done WAY more harm than good, because it’s erased the TRUTH which is that all BODIES are beautiful, period. And when we accept and love ours as it is we are doing radical justice work, period.
Okay - so what I’ve done is tried to tune out all of the “plans” and instead tune in to my body. Doing what feels right in any given season (in Minnesota winter is starkly different from summer and my movement routine shifts noticeably). I mix some weight training with some running with some yoga and call it good. There’s no perfect formula.. But in general I try to get my heart rate up three times / week. I try to stretch every day and do a longer yoga practice 1-2 times a week.
I use an app called ClassPass (not sponsored!) that allows me to book 5 sessions across a variety of gyms/studios in my city in a given month ($11/class, pretty affordable). The other movement sessions I find through donation-based classes (like Wyld Joy) or simply getting outside for a jog, hike or cross-country ski.
Most importantly is that I ENJOY all of my movement - I schedule it as a reward, something to look forward to in my week. It is "me time" and it is about making me feel good, not about how it is going to make me look - truth. This focus on enjoyable activities actually keeps me consistent (and will keep you consistent, too).
So, there you have it. My honest perspective on why now is my most “in shape” period yet. When reflecting back, getting my mind right and finding work that supports an active and flexible lifestyle were the two biggest keys to feeling totally healthy in my body. Finding consistent, healthy ways to eat and move also support my overall wellbeing, and the keys here were ditching any notion of a “plan” and simply following my intuition (through my body) to what would make me feel the best - which for me equates to feeling happy and strong.
Now it’s your turn… what do you do that makes you feel happy and strong (or your chosen descriptors)? When do you feel you are at your best, or “in the best shape”? How can you make small daily steps to move yourself in that direction?
This exercise I've created will generate a higher level of self awareness in how you can pursue your own “best shape” feeling. And it's free!
I’m excited to hear your own reflections, and look forward to supporting you however I can on the journey of treating ourselves well, and putting our intuition and health in the driver’s seat. <3