*Approaches To Fitness*
My Personal Experience
By: Morpheus
12 December 2010

To me, fitness is a vital component of personal preparedness and security. Low personal fitness levels can limit mobility and drain the budget on otherwise unnecessary expenses while also resulting in poor adaptation to new stresses, challenges, and environments. In recent years, I've taken my personal fitness more seriously, and learned a lot through study and experimentation.

For most of documented history and human life before, fitness consisted of hunting, gathering or raising what one could to eat and eating it, with all of the associated exercise that came with hunting and gathering and/or raising the food while defending oneself and family. The exception to this norm was professional athletes, police, military personnel and a few select others, who trained and ate closely-monitored diets to maximize their performance. In the mid-twentieth century as manufacturing techniques and agricultural methods evolved toward higher efficiency, a growing population of people living in industrialized nations experienced declining health due to excessive calorie intake combined with a sedentary lifestyle lacking in rigorous physical activity. Diet and exercise became a major area of study, and many hobby activities such as weight-lifting, bicycling, spinning and aerobics classes became more popular and widespread as did various diet books, magazines and programs.

The most prevalent diet and exercise philosophy adhered to during the latter half of the 20th century focused on a "balanced diet", dominated by grain consumption, followed by fruits and vegetables with limited protein and fats. See this website for visualization: http://www.diabetesdiabeticdiet.com/food_pyramid.htm. In conjunction with this carbohydrate and grain-centric diet, the common exercise approach focused on long-slow distance exercise with light to moderate lifting and/or intervals for speed as necessary. Long slow distance exercise included exercises like bicycling, cross-country skiing, jogging and aerobics among others. This exercise approach also prescribes maintaining the heartbeat between 60 and 85% of your maximum heart rate. Details for determining maximum heart rate are outlined at the following link: http://www.ehow.com/how_5139_calculate-training-heart.html.

A different diet and exercise approach that was discussed and practiced some in the latter half of the 20th century has gained a significant following in the first decade of the 21st century. This second diet approach prescribes eating a diet with extremely limited or no intake of grains, carbohydrates and sugars. It espouses the value of consuming proteins and fats for health. Some variants of this diet, such as the "Paleo" diet, allow for fairly liberal consumption of fruits and vegetables while others like Atkins call for restricted vegetable and fruit intake. "The Zone Diet", written by Barry Sears, calls for a balanced intake, but with a much higher percentage of fats and protein than the FDA model previously discussed. Rather than long, slow distance exercise, this approach to fitness calls for shorter-duration higher intensity fitness training. Some of the associated exercise regimens, such as the crossfit program, focus more on weight lifting, muscle toning and interval training rather than long distance, low to medium cardiovascular exercise.

In the book The Abs Diet, Dave Zinczenko recommends moderate lifting with cardiovascular exercise and eating a balanced diet, but avoiding certain unhealthy foods, to include hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup while focusing intake on certain healthy foods like nuts, fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins.

Given the variety of potential approaches to exercise and fitness, it's difficult to choose one to try yourself, and often it's even more difficult to stick to a regimen once you start. I've tried many, and I think ultimately no approach is right for all people as genetic, environmental and social differences will all help determine which approach to diet and fitness will be best for you. If someone tells me that I have to try a program that was highly successful in helping them attain their fitness goals, I'm usually hesitant to try as my goals, baseline fitness, requirements, genetic makeup and capabilities are different from the person recommending the program.

When I was in my teens and early twenties, my diet was healthy, consisting of whole grains, garden vegetables, fruits, some lean proteins, and limited sweets and fats. Exercise was incidental to the season and its associated activities. In the late fall, I started wrestling team workouts, followed shortly by track workouts, which were similar. In the summer and early fall, I rode bike, swam, walked, and performed manual labor. My health was excellent, energy was high, and body fat was low.

At 21 I joined the USAF, a lean, mean 200 pounds, 5 foot 11 inches tall. The basic training diet was far too rich, and exercise was insufficient, so I actually gained 10 pounds in 6 weeks. The following 6 months I attended technical training, with similar diet and exercise, resulting in another 10 pounds of weight-gain. At my first assignment, I pedaled to work and home again, which ended up being a 12 mile one way ride before we moved, and lifted weights lightly.

At my second assignment, Kirtland AFB, NM, I started pedaling more, and rode 150-450 miles weekly. I did very little weight lifting and minimal impact exercise (like running, hiking and/or lifting). After about 3 years, I had lost significant lean mass (skeletal and muscle) and replaced it with fat, which my body stored to feed the long-distance exercise. Per AF recommendations, I tried an exchange diet, which focused intake on fruits, vegetables and carbs, with limited protein and fat intake, which helped trim the fat back off, but wasn't instrumental in increased fitness or strength.

In the following years, I tried the Adkins diet, which was painful for me and didn't provide adequate energy for fitness activities. At the same time, I started lifting weights at a medium intensity level and running 3-5 miles 2-4 times a week and using gym cardio machines 2-3 times a week. After reading Zinczenko's abs diet, I started lifting and performing cardio workouts at a higher intensity level while consuming a healthier diet with more protein. I gained significant muscle mass and started feeling stronger and healthier. One of the Abs Diet program's tenets is to promote Human Growth Hormone (HGH) release by lifting with the large muscles in the legs, resulting in decreased fat and increased muscle mass throughout the entire body. I gained muscle easily and the fat decreased, but the muscle gain was more than I needed, which slowed my run times (counter-productive to AF fitness requirements).

The next major influence on my personal approach to fitness was via the Crossfit program. I learned of it through friends from work, and did some of the group workouts with them. The group workout is motivational for some, but isn't for me, I push myself better when I can focus on my own. I spent significant time studying on the Crossfit website, and it has a great deal of information on diet and exercise. The most popular diet on the website is Paleo, which prescribes eating a diet similar to that consumed by people during the Paleolithic age of history. For me, eating Paleo with occasional allowances for social situations and holidays results in max health and energy with fairly low body fat. The primary tenet of the Paleo diet is that our bodies aren't well adapted to eating all of the processed foods that we find on most grocery store shelves, they developed to eat more raw and natural foods. Eating raw fruits and vegetables that still have all of their enzymes intact facilitates healthy digestion and absorption of vital nutrients into the body.

For my workouts lately, I've focused on running again, to meet Air Force requirements, and weight lifting only enough to facilitate push-ups and sit-ups for the fitness test. I bike occasionally for fun, and use cardio machines at the gym to workout on inclement-weather days when I'm not motivated to brave the weather. When I move on to a different employer and I'm not required to maintain the same fitness as now, I plan to continue with the Paleo diet, but change my exercise regimen to include more variety, including hiking, more biking, and other fun and/or functional activities.

If you're already following a healthy fitness routine and have a healthy diet and exercise habits, you may be comfortable, or you might benefit from trying something new. If you haven't established good fitness, and are just starting out, I'd recommend starting with an exchange diet program like Weight Watchers. If it fits your need and motivates you, stick with it, but if you get bored or uncomfortable with it, move onto something different, there are a lot of alternatives available. The most important thing is that whatever fitness program you choose helps you attain your fitness goals and live a healthy life. If you have difficulty with self-motivation, joining a gym is a worthwhile option. They may offer group classes in addition to providing personal coaches at a reasonable rate. If there is a crossfit group in your area, they can also provide an immense amount of help and encouragement. Martial arts classes also provide an excellent fitness venue as they have coaches to motivate you and very practical exercise activities, focused on facilitating discipline and self-defense. If your diet and weight are already healthy and you desire to increase your exercise, there are numerous natural exercises you can do such as construction, gardening, cutting firewood and hiking among others.


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