I recently had a total “fan-girl” moment and it led to an unexpected connection between my passion and my fitness.
I had the opportunity to meet dance legend, George Chakiris. George Chakiris performed in both the stage and screen versions of West Side Story, White Christmas and danced with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (the famous Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend number). Mr. Chakiris (now 84 years old and still in fantastic shape) was generously greeting guests and signing autographs at a 1950’s themed Holiday event.
As we spoke, I mentioned to him that I am a dancer. His eyes lit up, “Are you still dancing?” he asked. I told him that I was, and his response moved me to the core. He said, “I believe that we are only our TRUE selves when we are dancing. Keep it up, we have to keep moving.” No truer words were ever spoken – at least to me. It made me realize that we all have something that inspires us, or CAN inspire us to move. Something that when we do that activity we feel we are our truest selves.
For me, finding dance was easy, it may not be as easy for everyone. I grew up on old musicals, like those that George Chakiris was in. My dream was to become a Radio City Rockette. My life took other directions, but I became a dancer and performer in the deepest part of my soul, my true self. This movement connection has become a part of my daily life
My advice to anyone seeking to lead a healthier, more active lifestyle is to find what moves you – both emotionally AND physically. Any fitness routine done mechanically day after day for reasons such as “I have to” or “I should (but don’t want to)”, can dull your muscle response and your motivation, making your workouts less effective. When you put your heart and passion into something, something that makes you feel like your true self, you always get back more energy and joy AND you continue that activity. For me it is dance.
The key to launching a lifetime health commitment is to find what makes you come alive, when you feel like your truest self. It may be going for nature walks, running, playing sports, or bike rides. For some, running is that thing, and they will hit the streets no matter the weather. Others have found joy in taking nature walks. My advice is to say farewell to that “I have to” workout and discover the thing that inspires you to move. When you identify what moves you it leads to the “I want to” mentality which increases your long term fitness.
Ways to discover what moves you:
DANCE! If you have always loved to dance, or have always wanted to learn, there is an endless variety of classes to choose from: tap, ballet, hip hop, Broadway jazz, ballroom, etc. Want to explore dance from around the globe? Try Samba from Brazil’s Carnival, Bhangra, a kind of Indian dance found in Bollywood movies, Or African dancing, that gets you down in your hips. All fun and great workouts for your body AND brain. Studies show that learning dance steps has benefits such as improving balance and strength, and boosting cognitive performance.
Anything with a dog. Your pet needs to walk, run, and kick up dirt. Find joy in finding new neighborhoods to stroll through or hiking together in nearby parks. Don’t have a doggy friend of your own? Volunteer with a local shelter or with an organization like Guide Dogs for the Blind. You can also call a friend who has dog/s and walk together.
Be a mermaid and make waves. Everything done in water feels less stressful and more fun. Water supports the body, helping you build strength while putting less stress on your joints and muscles.Besides swimming laps, you can now take Zumba, tai chi, and even Aikido in the pool. As an added benefit, it’s impossible to be in a bad mood while you’re holding on to a pool noodle.
Do it for a cause. This is fun because you’ll feel good about helping others (you usually raise money) and you’ll do something extraordinary, like training to bike or hike 100 miles. Doing a charity event is good for your heart physically and emotionally.
Be a kid again: play and learn something new. As we get older, we somehow feel that we can’t learn new things or stepping out of our comfort zone is intimidating. Remember when you were a kid and every experience was a new one? We were all beginners at something and we all have to start somewhere.
When trying to find something that moves you, think of all the things you wanted to do, but maybe never got the chance. You might be surprised at what you find. I always loved watching tennis, but never had the chance to learn how to play until a couple of years ago. I love playing now (albeit poorly) and I am so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to learn something new.
The most important thing about movement and exercise is that you make it a habit and keep doing it! It should move you bothy physically and emotionally. Hearing the words of George Chakiris has inspired me to be my true self, to keep dancing and always keep moving.
Heather is based in Longmont, Colorado and is a Level 4 Essentrics® trainer, certified Pilates Mat Instructor, licensed Progressing Ballet Technique instructor, Barre instructor and Irish dancer.
Let’s go ahead and just put this out there, F$%^ diet culture. Feel free to scream it from the rooftops, I most certainly do. If you aren’t there yet, or have no idea what diet culture is, sit back while we learn about the whole multibillion dollar industry that exist to strip your joy and make you feel inadequate. Diet culture is a system of beliefs that values thinness and equates it moral virtue. In short, diet culture is behind instagram favorites like #bodygoals and sponsored flat belly tea ads. Let’s dispel some diet culture myths shall we?
Myth: Thin values hold more value than all the other bodies.
Fact: Body positivity and smashing diet culture does not mean we don’t care what we look like. For me, it is knowing that my value does not exist in the way I look or the size I wear. Let me say this real loud and clear for those in the back, you and your body have value. There is literally nothing you or anyone else can do to change that fact. Your value exists because you are a living breathing human being. That is it, that’s all you have to do. You don’t have more value because someone loves you, you birthed a baby, you have a super cool important job that pays a ton, or because you can run a marathon. Those are all awesome things that contribute to how wonderfully unique you are as a person, but they don’t change how valuable you are.
Myth: You can only love your body when it is thin.
Fact: You can love your body while wanting to change the way to moves, functions, or even looks. These are not mutually exclusive ideas. So you want to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, eat more vegetables, run faster, jump higher? Cool go for it, personal growth is fantastic! Along the way realize that you have already accomplished so much. Shrinking your body doesn’t make you a better person, just a smaller one.
Myth: Bad people eat bad food and deserve to be fat.
Fact: There is no good or bad food. Food is an inanimate object that does not have morality. What you put in your mouth does not impact your moral virtue. (What comes out of your mouth does, so be kind to people.) Food is either nutritious or it isn’t. Nutritionally dense food will keep you fuller longer and contribute to improving your overall health. Food is not healthy, you are. Eating a nutritious diet helps keep you that way.
These myths aren’t things we typically say out loud, but they are certainly lingering in our subconscious. When we tell our bestie “Oh my gosh, I did so bad today,” after having a couple chocolates at the end of the night. Diet culture is quitting that restrictive diet after grazing the appetizer table at the party, because you “fell off the wagon” again. Diet culture is the wraps and shakes guaranteed to make you skinny by Monday. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t work! It is constantly feeling like you’d be happier if you could just lose 10lbs.
The way you eat does not have to have a name or be supported by all the famous people to be healthy and right for you. It just has to meet your nutritional needs and help you reach our goals, whatever they might. If it came with a whole lot less judgement and body shaming along the way we’d all be doing ourselves a whole lot of good. That is how we smash diet culture.
Losing weight, getting in shape or ramping up your exercise routine doesn’t have to be a drain on your bank account or require an expensive gym membership. In fact, some of the best ways to get fit are absolutely free!
YouTube fitness channels are free and can be accessed anywhere you have an Internet connection. Whether you’re into yoga, Pilates, aerobics, or kickboxing, you’re sure to find something on YouTube to help you get moving.
Get outside! Walk, jog, run, hike, bike. Take your dog, take your kids, take your spouse, or take a friend. In addition to some getting some cardio, being outdoors helps ward off depression, can lower your blood pressure, reduce stress, and boost your energy, just to name a few of the perks.
We all know the recipe for success is to move more and eat less, but it can be hard to stay motivated if you’re going it alone. Use Meetup to find an exercise group near you. Sometimes all we need is a little companionship and accountability to stay the course.
If you’re digitally motivated, a free fitness app might be right for you. Runtastic by adidas offers easy run tracking in real time with built-in GPS and progress tracking. 7 Minute Workout is available for Apple devices and offers a free workout plan that gives you a full-body challenge aimed at improving fitness and weight loss.
Seek out free fitness events in your city at Eventbrite. I did a quick search and found over 150 in my area alone!
Exercise on your commute. If you live close enough, consider walking or biking to work. In addition to getting a workout, you’ll also save money on gas or public transportation.
Take on the 30-day Gym-Free Fitness Challenge at Thrillist. It consists of an initial assessment and 30 equipment-free workouts designed to hit all the strength, cardio, and flexibility guidelines suggested by the American College of Sports Medicine. Best of all, it’s totally free!
Household chores can provide some of the best workouts. I found that out quickly when I moved to Colorado and had to start shoveling snow! Gardening, cleaning windows, painting, and even vacuuming can help you burn calories.
Volunteer to coach kids sports. Love playing softball or soccer as a kid? Get back in the game! Youth sports leagues are usually understaffed and in need of coaches. Share your love of the game with the next generation and get fit running drills with the kiddos.
Over 65? Silver Sneakers is a health and fitness program designed for adults 65+ that’s included with many Medicare Plans. From national gyms to local community centers, there are more participating fitness locations available in the U.S. to SilverSneakers members than there are Starbucks!