Life Lessons On Fitness

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By Raymond Onyango.

I spent my entire afternoon, last Saturday the 3rd of March 2012, attending and participating in a highly inspiring talk session organized by my friend Mercy Mose, a budding and highly talented motivational speaker. The event, dubbed “How to live your dreams” proved to be a highly rousing and exciting opportunity for each and every one of us in attendance, a to re-examine our lives, starting from the way we eat right down to our exercise and nutritional habits.  In fact I was so inspired by the people that I got to meet, connect with and talk to at this event that, that I decided to carry on the conversation on my blog, so this week I am going to share with you some of the most inspiring life lessons I have learned in the course of my career and a fitness leader and activist. It is my sincere hope that you will be similarly inspired and encouraged to keep up the good fight. Living a healthy and consistently active lifestyle does not come easy, even for people like me who do it for a living. It’s a constant struggle to find the time, to keep up the habit and maintain the motivation…I hope these insights help you along your way. Read on,

  • Physical perfection is an illusion no one ever attains. Part of being fit involves loving and learning to understand your body, even as it ages and goes through the transitions of life.  If you are not happy with your body as it is now, you will never be happy with it even if you looked like a supermodel. In the long run it is far more important to have fun and enjoy whatever physical activity you are pursuing, this is the only way you will guarantee lasting results.
  • It is important to have other ways of measuring your progress outside of simply weighing yourself on a scale. Remember that the scale cannot tell the difference between fat and muscle and cannot therefore give you an accurate picture of how much progress you are making. Pay more attention to your body fat percentage and circumferences. As for the scale, you can get onto it every once in a while but do not be obsessed by the numbers. Numbers have their use, but they don’t tell the whole story.
  • If you eat mostly wholesome, unprocessed, natural foods, chances are you will never have to count calories in your life. The human race has fed itself in this exact way for millennia and obesity was never really a problem until the advent of large scale food processing. With the discovery of antibiotics and the enormous improvements in medical care, humanity has brought infectious diseases largely under its control, what is killing us today are lifestyle diseases.
  • The best gift you can ever give your children is to teach them how to cook and eat healthy. Not being able to cook deprives you of the ability to control your food choices and regulate what goes into your own body. Cooking is an essential life skill, one that your kids should not miss out on.
  • Understanding your body type and how it responds to food and exercise is ultimately more important that following any type of complicated fitness routine. I workout most days of
    the week, running, cycling, weight training, yoga and Pilates and provided I keep this up, I have the liberty to eat just about anything I want to. But that is not universal formula that works for everyone.  What works for me might not work for you. In fact the bigger part of getting fit and staying that way, depends on your capacity to make accurate observations of your own body and respond by modifying your lifestyle choices, rather than blindly following some ‘great’ fitness program.
  • Most of the ‘revolutionary fitness gadgets’ being advertised in the mainstream media are nothing but a complete waste of time, deigned to fool you into spending money. Study after study has shown that most individuals who invest in expensive gym gear hardly use it much after less than six months. You don’t need gadgets you need knowledge! The ability to use your own body as prop. Push ups, Pull ups, Lunges, Squats, and abdominal crunches among others are still the most effective exercises you can count on to get you into shape and keep you that way for a lifetime. If you have to buy something, buy a good fitness book that really teaches you the fundamental principles of safe and effective exercise.
  • Spot reduction is a myth. Unless you are a professional body builder, you
    really have no business doing 10 different exercises for your biceps, legs or abdomen. If you are still obsessed with the idea that you can influence individual parts of your body without reference to others…forget it! It never happens! You cannot transform one part of your body to the exclusion of all others. Do yourself a favor and stick with huge compound exercises which involve movement of at least two joints or more and which require some aspect of coordination and balance. These are the real bread and butter of a successful workout plan.
  • There is no such thing as a short cut to weight loss or muscle toning. If you are looking to loose it fast, especially though extreme practices like radical dieting, I can assure you, you will eventually gain it all back with much more on top or otherwise you will suffer malnutrition and all of its consequences. The plain truth is that all diets fail in the long run, only intentional lifestyle changes make a lasting difference. The secret to permanent weight loss is to do it at a sustainable rate. I recommend that you loose no more than 2 kg every month. It might take you a year to do it, but at least you won’t be left with bags of sagging skin, a common consequence of radical food restriction diets.
  •  Prevention is better than cure. Work out to keep healthy and try to prevent lifestyle diseases before you become afflicted by them. Once you develop high blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis…there is simply no turning back. You are mortgaged to a lifetime of pills, lab tests, doctor’s visits and restricted diets. So it is wise to do everything in your power to keep from getting there in the first place – it’s only sensible!
  •  It is never too late to start working out; even in your 50’s you can still build muscle, burn fat and look like a million buck if you do the right things. All you need to do is stop making excuses and start acting in some capacity, however small.
  • It is physically impossible to gain 1 or 2 kilograms of fat over a weekend, even a generous one at that. You don’t need to rush to the gym and horde the treadmill for an hour just to assuage your guilt. That extra weight on the scale is probably water retention. Fluctuations in bodyweight are common especially among women, before and after their monthly cycles. Relax its probably nothing to worry about. The only time you should really be concerned is when you start having trouble fitting into your clothes. Don’t buy a size larger, work out!
  •  Healthy active individuals can enjoy their vices in moderation. There really are no bad or good foods it is a question of habits more than anything. A beer here, a slice of chocolate cake there and such other indulgences are perfectly acceptable – in moderation. Life is simply too short to deny yourself the little pleasures. Balance and moderation are what count.
  • Sugar and alcohol and tobacco are three of the greatest dangers to our health in the modern world. Quit smoking, watch your sugar intake and control you alcohol consumption and you might live to see your great grand children. If you don’t, you are almost certain to pick up a lifestyle disease or two along the way. Diabetes and blood pressure used to be called the diseases of the ‘rich’. But today patients suffering from these two conditions and their related ailments occupy more bed space in hospitals here in Kenya than diseases like malaria.
  • Unless by recommendation from a medical doctor, don’t waste your money on supplements. Many of them are unnecessary and some of them are potential
    dangerous as was evidenced about a some years ago when the substance ephedrine was banned form the United States after increasing alarm following widespread adverse side effects and potential deaths resulting form of health supplements containing ephedrine which often promised rapid weight loss. Virtually everything your body needs to function can be derived from eating a simple, wholesome, balanced diet and that is where you should focus your efforts.
  • In the fitness world, the only time frame that makes any sense is a lifetime. Face it today, that you are going to be doing this for the rest of your life. That is why I always insist that fitness must never be a struggle. Don’t force yourself to jog if you are not a runner, try soccer or cycling. Whatever the case look for an activity that brings you joy and encourages you to move just for the sheer joy of movement. Short-term success is only worthwhile if it can be maintained in the long run …other wise it is just a wasted effort and a waste of life. Have an inspired week, will you!
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Absolutely Flat Abs!

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3 Things You Can Do To Get There!

By Raymond Onyango.

Flat Abs

A flat, toned abdomen probably ranks first, as one of the most desirable outcomes of engaging in a regular exercise regimen, and one of the most elusive, to say the least!  And yet whenever I go down to the coast, or my hometown of Kisumu, every single fisherman on the lake, has a perfect set of six – pack abdominal muscles worthy of a fitness magazine cover!  They are the living proof that you don’t need to pop pills, or accumulate silly gadgets in the pursuit of a flat abdomen, you just need to modify your approach to abdominal exercise. Here is how.

Improve Your Posture

The Major Abdominal Muscle Groups

Your body has three main weights – the head, the chest and the hips. Keeping these weights in alignment, is a function that is mostly executed by four main abdominal muscle groups namely:

Transversus abdominus: The deepest muscle layer. Its main roles are to stabilize the trunk and maintain internal abdominal pressure.

Rectus abdominus: Slung between the ribs and the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis. This muscle has the characteristic bumps or bulges, when contracting, that are commonly called ‘the six pack’. The main function of the rectus abdominus is to move the body between the ribcage and the pelvis.

Six Pack Abs

External oblique muscles: These are on each side of the rectus abdominus. The external oblique muscles allow the trunk to twist, but to the opposite side of whichever external oblique is contracting. For example, the right external oblique contracts to turn the body to the left.

Internal oblique muscles:These flank the rectus abdominus and are located just inside the hipbones. They operate in the opposite way to the external oblique muscles. For example, twisting the trunk to the left requires the left side internal oblique and the right side external oblique to contract together.

Sit Tall

Sitting for too much of the day, often with poor posture as is the case with the great majority of us, has everything to do with weak abdominal muscles and strained lower backs. Most of the work our abdominal muscles do on a day to day basis is low in intensity, but long in duration, such as simply holding the upper body upright for hours every day. If you can consciously begin to improve your workout by sitting and standing tall, you will have laid a firm foundation upon which to build that flat abdomen you desire.

Think Whole Body

Think whole body

A common misconception is perpetuated by several health and fitness magazines is that getting flat abs is all about, doing tons and tons of crunches, sit ups and other abdominal exercises. Not only does this approach not work, even worse it encourages muscle imbalances in the body that can lead to host of expensive and draining medical conditions. The Human Body is a study in balance, and the abdomen is no different.

Remember our fishermen in Kisumu and Mombasa. I can bet you my last shilling that they have never done a sit up or an abdominal crunch in their lives and they certainly don’t posses gym memberships. On the other hand, they spend all day Rowing boats, Hauling In laden nets and hauling heavy baskets of fish ashore. In a nutshell, they use their bodies, and that in turn is what gives them such incredible muscle tone.

To get a flat abdomen, you have to train, you legs, arms and all other parts of the body in equal measure, The more muscle groups you call upon, the more you rev your metabolism and the more the pounds will drop off…even around the waistline! Huge compound exercises such as Squats, Lunges, Pull Ups, Push Ups, The Plank And the Bridge should form the core of your strength-training program. Your abdomen will benefit from it!

Eat Better

Fresh Produce

As you well know by now, all your efforts in the gym will come to naught if you don’t follow though with some sensible eating habits. Counting calories is a grand waste of time and you don’t have to subscribe to any complicated sounding diet plan either. Generations upon generation of our ancestors were able to feed themselves competently without professional help. They did it by eating wholesome, fresh, unprocessed food, devoid of any preservatives of flavor enhancing additives. They did it by approaching food as a source of nutrition and sustenance, rather than today where we are guided by taste and convenience as opposed to nutritional value.

Unprocessed food is the way to go

Most importantly however, they did it by being simple. The most successful approach to healthy eating, is that which is simple and easy to maintain for life. If you go in for an expensive diet plan, or one that is overly restrictive in its scope, you will fail primarily because you will not be able to maintain it for a meaningful period of time. Simply cut out as much of the processed stuff as you can, and go back to eating the way our grand parents and their parents before them did. It might take you a little longer to prepare a meal from scratch with fresh ingredients, but it will also help you live longer!

Have a great week will you!