Making daily decisions for our bodies that make us feel good in the long run can be hard, despite how all those exercise videos or other people's fitness blogs sometimes make it seem effortless. In fact, there are a few secrets that everyone should know before starting in on an exercise or personal fitness plan — and they're usually things that no one ever really tells you or talks about beforehand.
My sister and I started working out and focusing more on nutrition years ago, and we often discuss the many things we were unprepared for when it came to our experiences — some of them were awesome (like being able to sprint up the stairs without even thinking about it) and some were a little less great. The reality is a lot of what we imagine life will be like once we're adopted new patterns is just that — imaginings — and the realities can be much different.
For example, while I absolutely felt so much better day-to-day when I was fueling my body with good-for-me foods, my life was by no means magically perfect. I still had a ton of school-related stress, the pressures of young-adulthood, and sometimes just didn't feel like doing what I knew was good for me, like going for a morning jog. Being physically healthier wasn't some magic pill to cure all life's problems, and it still isn't.
If you're gearing up to embark on a fitness journey and feel like you keep hearing and reading the same information over and over in your research, here are seven things you should know that many people don't talk about.
1. You Have To Be Doing It For You
This first tip is a personal note that I think is super important to keep in mind. I've found that the only times I've ever been able to really stick to my personal fitness goals — whether they be about strength training, cardiovascular health, or eating more vegetables — are when I'm doing it for myself. Getting "in shape" (even though that's a relative term that means something different for everyone) to meet someone else's perceived expectations will never leave us truly feeling satisfied. Remembering that you only have to answer to yourself and how you feel is a super integral foundation for any personal journey, this one included.
2. You Need Recovery Time
In a piece for NextAvenue.org, strength and conditioning trainer Linda Melone stressed of the importance of gradually easing into an exercise program and giving yourself ample recovery time between workouts. "It’s tempting to go all out when you’re first starting a new workout, but you’re better off progressing gradually," she wrote. "You’ll not only likely feel sore when you’re a newbie, but the brunt of muscle soreness may not hit you until two days after your workout."
She also noted that pushing yourself every day or doing too many high intensity workouts in a row can have diminishing returns, as you'll ultimately hurt yourself and need more time off overall. So even if you're super enthusiastic about getting stronger and want to see results quickly as possible, avoid going in too hard all at once.
3. You Might Not Notice Progress For A While
In the same piece, Tom Holland, exercise physiologist, triathlete and author of Beat the Gym, noted that it typically takes six to eight weeks to start really feeling the results of a workout regimen. Six to eight weeks in is also right around the time when most people start to bail on their routine. Whether your goal is to get stronger, run a 5K in a certain amount of time, or finally master that yoga headstand, you should go into your fitness journey with a realistic timeline. This way you'll be way more likely to not get discouraged.
4. It Can Test Relationships
According to a study from North Carolina State University, changing our patterns can put a strain on a romantic relationship when only one partner is doing it. Assistant professor Lynsey Romo noted that in some cases the other person experienced feelings of getting "left behind," or sometimes felt as though they were being nagged or judged by their partners. If you're about to embark on a lifestyle overhaul that could change key aspects of your daily routine, try being open and honest with your partner about all your goals. Also, be super conscious that you could inadvertently trigger some of their own insecurities in the process. Always remember that health is something you're focusing on for you. While having your partner's support is wonderful, your health journey should have nothing to do with anyone else, and same goes for your SO. If your partner joins you on your daily jog, that's great, but try to always remember that your goals are your own, and not to push them on anyone else in your life.
5. Problems Will Still Exist
Before I embarked on a journey to feel better through exercise and nutritional choices, I had this image of myself "after." I thought that if I was the kind of person who could jog three miles, or who drank green smoothies every morning, I'd be a new, "better" version of myself. The truth is while I definitely had more energy day-to-day, things like work-related stressors or minor interpersonal conflicts were still, and always will be, alive and well. I've found that focusing on happiness now and appreciating the good things I have is way more effective that thinking I'll magically be happier at some later point.
6. Sometimes People Are Insensitive
In a piece for Shape, one reader noted that while compliments about your progress may feel nice at first, sometimes they can border on insensitive or even hurtful. She noted that hearing things like, "Wow — you look so different!" can make you feel really insecure if part of your fitness journey resulted in physical change. It's best to tune out other people if you're finding them unhelpful and just focus on the things that are making you feel your best. How you feel is something only you can determine, and you and you alone will know when you are in a healthy place emotionally, mentally, and physically. There was nothing wrong with you before your health journey, just as there's nothing wrong with making the personal choice to aim for changes in your own life. And none of that is anyone's business but your own.
7. There's No Such Thing As Perfect
This is another personal tip, but I think it is so, so important to share and remind people of this fact. For the longest time, I used to stick to an exercise regimen or food plan, and when I'd eat something that made me feel sluggish or miss workouts for a week or two, I'd think, "It's all over," and give up entirely. I assumed because I hadn't done exactly what I said I'd do, that the whole endeavor was ruined. However, the reality is we're all human, and we're going to deviate from our plans every now and then. As soon as you accept this about yourself and the situation and realize it will never be "all or nothing," you'll be much more likely to stick to your goals overall.
Sticking to daily routines that make us feel strong and energized in the long run isn't always easy. And sometimes it feels even harder simply because we just aren't prepared for certain realities. The good news is you're now just a little more prepared for all the things that may come your way on your personal fitness journey.
And if you ever feel like you're being ruled by other people's expectations about your health or body instead of your own, and it's starting to affect your mental health and happiness, never, ever be afraid to reach out for help. You can find local mental health providers in your area at MentalHealth.gov and SAMHSA.gov.