Friday, February 10, 2006

Get Fit Fast!

That is the title of a new series of workout videos put out by Denise Austin. She has to be one of the most fit 48 year olds in the nation, so when I saw that series at the library I grabbed the Get Fit Fast Abs tape. It contains three short workouts; two are ten minutes in duration, and a third that is fifteen minutes long. All three of them were deceptively short, seriously demanding workouts that left me flat on my back and nursing my abdominal muscles for days. Last night, I went back to the library for more pain; I picked up the Get Fit Fast Arms workout tape. Among the drills were push-ups, bicep curls, and a strange move that involved lying on my side and lifting a three-pound weight in a side angle pose I'd never known or thought of before today. I am learning not to be surprised at how much difference a new exercise can make when it comes to waking this body up and sculpting it into decent shape. Combined with Denise's televised half-hour show at 7:30 this morning, that ten-minute arm workout were enough to make me wish I still had the metabolism of my 23 year-old self.

Before Denise Austin and Tae Bo, I used to swear by a series of workouts produced by a company called The Firm. Two or three times each week, I'd haul out my dumbbells, my aerobic step, a broomstick, ankle weights, and a seventeen inch step stool, and I followed the instructors on those tapes religiously. The tape boxes promised visible results in less than ten workouts or I'd get my money back. By the time I transitioned from The Firm to Tae Bo, I'd bought over 15 tapes, and I never sent one back. The Firm transformed my post-pregnant figure into pre-pregnant proportions. When I was ready to go beyond firm to fantastic, I bonded with Billy Blanks and kicked, punched, and chopped my way to further fitness. Late last year, as I approached my 40th birthday, I was ready to enter yet another physical fitness phase. I discovered the challenge of both the balance ball and resistance bands. I am loving the results that both of them are bringing to my body.

After five solid years of working out, moving from two days per week up to five days per week, trying to control my ravenous sweet tooth, regulate by eating habits, drink more water, and take vitamins daily, I have come to the following conclusion: there is no way to "get fit fast." Getting fit means I must commit myself to making good choices every time I eat. Getting fit means I must get up early every morning to have my quiet time and exercise before I start homeschooling; once the school day starts, it's nearly impossible for me to shoehorn a workout into my schedule. Staying fit means that if I eat four or five cookies today, I have to restrict my sugar intake for the next two days. And none of that happens fast.

Funny how life imitates exercise! Being fit spiritually, emotionally, relationally takes time. Being comfortable in my own skin, with my own decisions, in a world and society that insists on apathy, conformity and mediocrity, requires a determination of will and a strength of character that happens neither accidentally nor instantaneously. I must commit to times of prayer, solitude, reflection, journaling, Bible reading, and life application of the principles I learn on a daily basis if I am to get fit spiritually. If my marriage is going to be fit and strong, I must spend time with my husband, talking to him, carrying the heavy stuff of life together, and stopping every now and then to rest between sets, and be refreshed as a couple and as individuals. If I am to have strong friendships and relationships with distant family members, I must be willing to resist the lethargy that comes so easily, constantly readjust my mental and emotional posture, and stretch myself in order to meet the needs of others. And I must be ever-vigilant about what I consume through television watching, reading, and in conversation with others, or I will fill myself up on empty calories that provide no mental or spiritual nutrition.

Denise Austin has written many books and produced hundreds of workouts over the past fifteen or twenty years. In every book and at somepoint in nearly every workout she says something like this: "Just stick with me, and you will see results. It just takes half an hour a day. That's all I do; half an hour five days a week and a long walk or two on the weekend. Half an hour, ladies; you can do it." As proof of her statement, she includes amazing before and after photographs of people who have followed her plan, cooked up her nifty recipes and lost 30, 40, or even 100 pounds. Well, yahoo for them. For the record: I don't believe her when she says she works out for only half an hour a day, unless she doesn't count the workouts that she records. But that's just my humble opinion.

Quite frankly, I like Oprah's explanation a little better. A couple of weeks ago, I rented her "Make the Connection" video at the library in which she tells the story, the ongoing saga, of her struggle with weight. I like that about Oprah; she's up front with the fact that it's an ongoing struggle. She's always battled the bulge, and she knows that she always will. When she talked about what it takes to "make the connection and drop the weight," she says that if you work out for half an hour, you get a certain result. If you work out for 45 minutes, you get another result; and if you work out for an hour, you get another result still. You decide what results you want, and then you exercise, eat, and live accordingly. It's easy. It's not even fun most of the time.

On this point, Oprah is absolutely right. If I take no time to develop my character, my marriage, or my body, I will get a certain result: no character, a very weak marriage, if any marriage at all, and an increasingly out-of shape physique. If, on the other hand, I subject myself to a regular schedule of exercise, prayer, reading, and reflection, then my body, mind, and spirit will be made new.

Now that I've made the connection and begun to act accordingly, I am seeing results. My arms and mid-section are trimmer. My heart and lungs can withstand greater exertion. My patience is more flexible than it used to be. My spiritual eyes see myself, my life, and my world more clearly. Life itself feels better, fits better, and is better. Fast? No. Fit? No doubt about it.

I'll probably always enjoy the gooey, nutty goodness of Snickers bars.
I'll probably watch What Not to Wear every Friday night.
I'll probably continue to borrow John Grisham's latest novels from the library as soon as they are available.
I know I will never give up junk food.
But I'll make up for it tomorrow.
Fast or not, I am determined to get fit - and stay fit.

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