As I recently said in my interview for the Hall of Warriors over at EnsoJourney.com, my dog Coda is an unending source of joy for me. I marvel at watching his unrestrained actions and emotions. If he’s hungry, he eats. If he’s tired, he sleeps. If he feels like cuddling on the couch, he curls up next to me. And if he’s mad because I won’t give him a snack, he lets me know that too. He never denies his true nature, even when that means expressing the killer inside.
I know that as people we often feel the need to filter our actions through the lens of societal norms (and this is not always a bad thing). But I firmly believe that the best way to approaching health and fitness is to get back to our true nature – the one that existed before cubicles, and smart phones, and eight lane super highways. I’ve often said that the components of fitness and health are simple. So simple, that even a dog can do it. . .
Eat Real Food
Coda will eat just about anything. And by anything, I mean he ate the drywall off of my kitchen doorway the first year that I had him. But most of his dining on non-food items occurred while he was still in the puppy-stage, and these days he sticks to what would be typically thought of as edible.
For a while Coda was overweight. When I saw that he was showing signs of hip displaysia from carrying around the extra pounds, I immediately took action to get his weight under control. I bought him a special no-starch dog food (no grain, potato, or rice ingredients) and limited all of his snacks to fresh fruits and vegetables. Basically I put my dog on the Paleo diet, and his weight dropped to a healthy range in just a few weeks.
Sticking to a diet of lots of vegetables, some meat and fruit, and a small amount of nuts has given me (and my clients) the best results for both body composition and performance. Sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store and focusing on real food that does not come in packaging or even have ingredient labels for the most part, is solid advice for the basics of a healthy nutrition plan.
Enjoy Regular Exercise
Every morning immediately after his breakfast, Coda and I play for about ten minutes. I don’t have to remind him and he doesn’t have to “put it on his calendar” – he plays because he enjoys the physical activity.
Similarly, you should select exercise activities that you enjoy. If you hate to run (like I do), then don’t run. If you hate going to the gym, then don’t go. I do believe that any good exercise regimen should include some form of moving heavy things and accelerating the heart rate through short bursts of of high intensity movement. But that could mean moving bags of mulch for your garden and playing full court basketball on the weekends. Or doing strongman training and skipping rope. Or hitting the basic body-weight exercises and running sprints in the park. The combinations of activities are only limited by your creativity and level of enjoyment. But you should enjoy it. With so many options, there is no sense grinding through a training program that you dread.
Coda is the nap master! Sometimes I think he takes a nap to get ready for bed. But the key is that when he feels the need to rest, he takes a break.
In our modern society with so many people trying to keep up with work and family and social obligations, I’m convinced that rest and recovery are the most neglected aspects of health and fitness. You can always find the latest celebrity diet blaring from the supermarket magazine rack. And the newest workout, training program, or exercise gadget will dominate the late-night infomercials. But “how to get a good night’s sleep” isn’t sexy enough to sell magazines or Shakeweights.
I know it’s tempting to always be on the go. But taking time for rest and recovery is crucial for hormone balance, immune function, and mental and physical performance. So if you need a break – take it. And be sure to incorporate practices for optimum sleep and stress reduction.
Part of Coda’s nature is that he is one happy dog. Tail wagging and smiling are the norm for this pup. Even on the rare occasions when I get mad and yell at him, he lets it roll off of his back and he’s back to tail wagging the next moment.
Our attitude and outlook on life are crucial to our health and fitness. These mental and emotional components are the glue that help us stick to a consistent nutrition, training, and recovery regimen. But the question is. . . which comes first?
Does the development of healthy habits lead to a more positive attitude? Or must there be a shift in outlook before positive changes in diet and exercise can be made? I’m convinced they are intertwined, but I also believe that starting with habits – with actions – is the way to go as long as incremental steps are used as opposed to trying to change everything at once.
And by incremental, I mean starting with the smallest action you are absolutely certain that you can accomplish. For someone new to fitness, that may mean committing to do just one push up as soon as they come home from work. Or eating a piece of fruit instead of a doughnut for breakfast for just one day. These small victories build confidence to take on the next small step, and the small steps eventually becoming large actions.
With a track record of continual small changes and the corresponding results in weight loss and improved fitness capacity, attitude shifts to a place of belief instead of denial. Coda would not be so happy if he was beaten and lived in a cage each day. He’s happy because he has a track record of being loved and having his basic needs met.
The components of fitness and health are simple. Simple enough that my dog can do it. Instead of getting lost in the latest diet fad or workout sensation, focus on eating real food, enjoying regular exercise, allowing for rest and recovery, and smiling with even the smallest of successes.
What other simple fitness and health tips have you learned from watching your pets? Or your children? What other sources of natural movement and health can we draw from? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Cool links to check out. . .
That’s it for this week! Be sure to make Coda happy and sign up for email updates below: