“Wait until you’re my age.”
I started personal training at 18. As a sophomore in high school, I was spectacularly out of shape just two years prior. I lived on a diet of McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Hot Cheetos. I had almost zero physical activity, and my BMI was well into the red zone for obesity.
Midsemester, I joined a gym. I was 16 and knew less than nothing about health and fitness. But with nothing else to do, I became singularly focused on figuring it out. By the following year, I had lost all the weight I had struggled with throughout my adolescence.
With my newfound passion for fitness, I evangelized the healthy lifestyle to clients as a new personal trainer. The problem was that my finger wagging didn’t always land well on clients who were twice my senior. “Sure, that’s easy for you to say. You’re 18. Wait until you’re my age.” Fair point. My dramatic transformation at 16 years old was relatively simple to accomplish. I was a teenager. I had no bills, no mortgage, no marriage, no kids, and nobody to support. My only responsibility was school, so one can see how some might resist my wise counsel.
Fast forward to now. It’s been 18 years since I was 18 and I got that first eye roll. I now have the bills, mortgage, kids, and family to support that my teenage self knew nothing about. And being on the far side of 30, I can definitely relate to the skepticism I was met with as a teenager. No doubt, maintaining a healthy and fit lifestyle is more difficult now than it was in high school.
When you’re young, you can do it all. Go to parties, hit the gym, eat what you want, sleep in, hang out with friends, and spend money. You can say yes to anything with little consequence. Your metaphorical plate is empty, so you’re free to load up. But with each passing year, the obligations begin to accumulate. The stakes are raised. You go to college, land a career, find a spouse, and have a place of your own. Suddenly things are a lot more complicated, and the boundless hormone-fueled energy and metabolism have greatly diminished. So had I known then what I know now, how would my advice to my clients change? Here’s what I’d tell them:
This is just a season. The craziness of your hectic life is not permanent. Right now, it feels like there is not enough time in the day, but someday, perhaps sooner than you think, the pendulum will swing the other way. The kids will grow up, obligations will fade, and a surplus of time will be back. But the question is: What good is having that time back without your health? The struggle is real, but it isn’t permanent, so make do with the bit of time you have.
Being fit and healthy is more challenging right now but by no means impossible. Perhaps it’s harder to live a healthy lifestyle at this time in your life. I get it. You’re not 18, and yes, you have a lot on your plate, but that doesn’t mean your health can’t be a priority. It does mean you’ll have to adjust your expectations to align with your circumstances. Your version of success will need to be defined by what you’re able/willing to give at this time in your life. This will require making occasional sacrifices, weighing opportunity costs, and being patient with yourself. Messy execution is better than doing nothing.
Planning is more important than ever. Gone are the days when you could say yes to something without saying no to something else. Life will be a series of managing, negotiating, and plate spinning. This will not be achieved by winging it. If you hope to make a healthy lifestyle work, you’ll need to become a good planner. The more you set appointments with yourself to workout, meal prep, take walks, etc., the more successful you will be.
A boring routine is your secret weapon. What most people don’t realize about highly successful people is that they are boring. I mean that as a compliment. They do the same things daily, weekly, and yearly. They go to bed early and wake up early at the same time. They eat the same things over and over again. Their life isn’t a nonstop bender. As a result, they accomplish a lot.
Don’t play the comparison game. The older we get, the more our paths diverge. My exact formula for success will not look like yours. You will need to define what success is to you and decide if you’re living up to it. Do not get distracted or discouraged by what others are doing because they all have different responsibilities/priorities than you. So do you.
Lastly: Don’t dwell on the past. Sure, it was easier before. So what? Getting older is awesome. It’s even better when you take care of yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. spt