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January 29, 2021

Keep the fires of fitness burning in the face of continuous change

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to make all kinds of adjustments — including how to stay fit. A resilient mindset can transform these challenges into opportunities

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Adapt to Change Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

When it comes to the daily regimen of exercise in 2021, shifting external forces are certain to create the need for continued flexibility in your day-to-day life.

The notice was issued in March of last year. I saw it coming. My gym closed. It was a big deal for me. As a creature of habit, my morning routine was anchored by an early morning workout. No matter what lay ahead, the workout cleared my head and gave me the balance I needed to take on the day. 

So, I moved outdoors and, like many, invested in some of the basic strength training equipment; a bench, dumbbells and a barbell. The basement was now my gym. It was adjustment No. 1 in what was to be a year of ongoing adaptation to changing circumstances, and a precursor of what we may still confront in 2021.

Though I ran along a dimly-lit path each morning, living across the street from a park made it kind of nice. As spring turned to summer and the rising sun unveiled a dynamic view of the adjoining river, I came to really enjoy the new routine. The change was fully adopted.

While no match for the vast array of equipment at the gym, the basement weight training got me through. However, one issue posed a problem. My abdominal machine was gone. Traditional sit ups and even crunches on a large ball put stress on my upper back and neck. As an alternative, I had found a machine that gave me the workout I wanted with zero stress. What was I to do? Adjustment No. 2, the plank.

I had used planks occasionally, but typically as a supplement. They now became my "go-to" core exercise with no equipment necessary. While at first a little tedious as I held the pose and watched the seconds tick on my iPhone, the combination of news coming through my ear buds and thoughts about the day ahead helped me conquer the new strategy. 

As a bonus, it turns out that the plank is probably one of the best overall core-strengthening exercises. According to Harvard Medical School, floor exercises like plank poses are great for engaging your core muscles. Check the abdominal box.

As the fall approached, a reprieve came from the governor. New Jersey gyms could reopen with limited occupancy. Just in time. Running outdoors in winter weather just doesn’t work for me. So, it was back to the gym and the treadmill for winter cardio workouts. But there was just one problem.

The gym, which previously was open 24 hours, now opened at 6 a.m. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you have a limited window each morning, a half-hour can make a huge difference. 

On top of these workout nuances, the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted my day job as a hospital administrator. I needed to be at work for a COVID briefing every morning. This magnified the variance between my previous 5:30 a.m. arrival and the new 6 a.m. opening. With the winter I needed to get inside. The answer, adjustment No. 3 — the hybrid workout.

On the three days a week when I run and do strength training, I began to split the workouts between the basement and the gym. I stretch, do the plank and then lift weights at home. From there I scoot to the gym by six as the doors open. Problem solved. I am able to grab breakfast, shower and get to my daily COVID briefing by 8:30 a.m.

Control what you can

According to Northwestern Medicine, people are creatures of habit and routines offer a way to promote health and wellness through structure and organization. Having a routine can greatly improve your health. But what happens when those routines are disrupted? How can you develop new rituals and sustain the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, particularly if there is a likelihood of further change?

Dr. Kathleen Smith, a licensed professional counselor, says that to deal with change is to evaluate your level of control. Smith suggests that resilient people set their sights on what they can control. When you look for opportunities to empower yourself and work toward change that is possible, she says, you are less likely to feel stuck in difficult situations. While I had no control over the closure of my gym or the modified hours, I could regulate where and when I exercised.

Mastering resilience and personal agility

Change and disruption are happening at every level in the world, and in the ways we live our lives as individuals, says Tomi Owodunni, a senior account manager at Schlumberger UK. According to Owodunni, resilience and personal agility represent "adaptive capacity" — how much energy and strength we need to effectively address challenging, changing and adverse situations.

Resilience is the ability to find the growth opportunity in the challenges you face. Personal agility is to feel relatively in charge, secure and confident — rolling with life's curve balls, whatever the source. With this mindset, the prospect of continuing change in 2021 takes on a whole new perspective. The prospect of change transforms from an excuse to stop healthy practices to an opportunity to increase your lifestyle commitment.

Sustainability and external change

The literature on behavioral change is largely focused on developing the personal motivation and discipline to overcome the internal temptations that result in the abandonment of the positive behavior — planning, daily rituals, record keeping and the integration of social relationships with exercise. 

When outside forces, like a pandemic, erect barriers to your healthy habits, the challenge grows exponentially. The strength of your behavioral platform is tested as is your ability to adapt to the ever-changing conditions. A reason to continually reinforce your positive practices and strategically embrace change.

Will my gym return to a 24-hour schedule? Are Pilates or yoga in my future? Will I come to enjoy some new configuration of aerobic exercise and strength training? I certainly have no idea what the future holds, but I do know that in 2020 I found alternatives to my exercise routine that I enjoy more and produce better results. 

When it comes to the daily regimen of exercise in 2021, shifting external forces are certain to create the need for continued flexibility in your day-to-day life. The upside will be a necessary dose of innovation with the potential to take you to a new level of fulfillment, and that may be just what you need to keep the fires of fitness burning strong throughout the year.

Louis Bezich, senior vice president of strategic alliances at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website 


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