Why Health Requires Constant Vigilance

I hope if you are reading this blog you are in a state of pretty decent health. Or maybe you come here for tips to improve that state and are on a journey to get there. It might please you to know that I am on the same journey. I’m just like you.

In fact I’ve been on this journey for years, and I’m sure that I will continue to do so for years to come. I don’t say this to be disheartening, but in an industry that relies on catchy headlines that promise quick results I’d rather tell you the honest truth. There is no end point when it comes to health and fitness. Sure, it’s possible to reach a point where it may not take as much effort (a term I despise, called maintenance), but if we’re not careful that can be a slippery slope that leads to weight gain and declining health.

Maintaining or improving one’s health requires constant vigilance. This is what the experts mean when they use the phrase, “make it a lifestyle.” It requires daily effort that does not reward slacking or neglect. It’s mental and physical. You have to make the right choices AND do the work day in and day out. Failure to do so can result in the cyclical weight gain and loss known as yo-yo dieting.

Most of us have been in really good shape at one point in our lives. Whether is was back in high school, ten years ago, ten months ago, or just a couple of weeks ago, it’s easy to remember how much better we felt when our health was vibrant. Things didn’t creak or ache and basic movement didn’t leave us short of breath. That memory often gives us a goal to shoot for when we know we need to make some changes. It’s easy to wish, know you need to make a change, and be reactionary when there’s an obvious health or weight issue. Once you’ve put in the work and regained that lost health and fitness, the gap may not be as noticeable, or in fact it may be nonexistent, and that can be a problem.

Feeling like you’ve arrived at your destination can lead to complacency. Complacency often leads to a slide, somewhat imperceptible at first, but before you know it you are nowhere near where you just were. Frustrated and perhaps angry, you have two choices. Work your butt off again, or give in to the frustration and give up.

You’ve wouldn’t believe how common the second option is. So what really happened here? It’s simple, you were not vigilant. It required a good deal of work to reach your goal, but you failed to continue with that work ethic and keep pushing forward. Believe me, I’ve been there too.

Back in my days of endurance racing after the season ended I would slack off during the winter months when I wasn’t competing, feeling as if I somehow earned the months of downtime. This usually included less exercise, not modifying my diet for the relative inactivity and working in a few more booze filled nights since I wasn’t putting in long morning workouts the day after. The result: an extra 15-20 pounds, lost fitness, and having a huge hill to climb to work my way back come spring.

One year I decided to do something different. Instead of slacking in the offseason I dedicated my efforts to improving during that time. I kept my diet in check, and put in extra hours, particularly in the pool. As result there was no backslide, and I entered the next race season, leaner and faster than previous years. This led to unprecedented success, setting multiple personal records that year.

All of the success because I spent the offseason vigilant, only engaging activities that pushed me forward toward my goals. It’s a lesson I’ve reflected on often now that my focus is on strength training. I don’t compete (unless it’s with myself), but I’ve seen the same sort of cycle take place after finishing workout programs and not giving myself something to focus on immediately afterward. It’s one thing to take a recovery week after wrapping up a training block. It’s another to phone in workouts for several weeks afterward and slack on the diet.

Any hard earned results require constant vigilance to maintain. Better yet, let’s take it a step further. One of the best strategies I know of to ensure maintenance of your health and fitness is to focus on improvement. It may seem a little counter-intuitive, but setting a new goal and shooting to achieve it can help immensely in keeping you on track. It doesn’t have to be anything audacious or mind-blowing, but even just small steps forward every day can pay huge dividends. Did you just get your first pullup? Well now let’s shoot for 5.

Live by the motto, “better every day,” and seek out even just the slightest of actions that can lead to improvement. Even if it’s just one percent better. Heck, some days I will take just a fraction of a percent better. We can be pleased with our accomplishments and where we are at right now for sure, but you know, wouldn’t it be nice to keep pushing our limits and strive to be just a little bit better than before?

Cultivating this drive is the key to remaining vigilant. Vigilance does not require being perfect every day, it just requires effort. Effort breeds results, and those results keep you on track. Staying on that track is the key to better health, fitness, and a better life in general.

There is no end point. There is no time to stop caring about and working on your well being. Remain vigilant and don’t settle. Believe me, it’s totally worth it.

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