Maybe you’ve been there, or maybe you’re there now: unhappy about your fitness status, and short on ideas or motivation about how to create a healthy change. Maybe you’re stuck in a joyless workout rut, or perhaps your workouts aren’t getting done at all.
The question is, what are you going to do about it? Sure, a dramatic fitness makeover would be nice, but in real life, those makeovers demand some serious commitment and work. If your enthusiasm and confidence are at a low ebb, how do you even begin?
First, take an honest look at where you are now, advises Gunnar Peterson, CSCS, author of G-Force: The Ultimate Guide to Your Best Body Ever (HarperCollins, 2005), even if that assessment involves some discomfort.
“People often subconsciously picture themselves as they were when they were in the best shape of their lives — even if that was 35 years ago,” he says. They may also describe themselves as active types who “exercise regularly,” even if it has been months or years since they broke a sweat.
That kind of imaginary fitness reality can work against you, Peterson notes. “If you’re skipping at least a third of your workouts,” he says, “no matter the reason, it’s time for a fitness overhaul.”
But what if you’re not feeling entirely ready to overhaul your fitness — or even to complete a single workout? It may just mean that you’re currently working through one of the early stages of behavior change. The good news: Once you know where you stand, you can take a step forward.
The Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of behavior change, first described in 1985 by James O. Prochaska, PhD, and Carlo C. DiClemente, PhD, is now widely accepted as one of the most useful representations of the progressive series of attitudes, intentions and behaviors through which health-related behavioral changes (such as weight loss and smoking cessation) typically occur. The TTM describes six stages of change:
Precontemplation. At this stage, a person has no intention of changing his or her behavior any time soon (say, within the next six months). This may be due to a lack of compelling purpose, or to a deficit of confidence. Until a precontemplator experiences a catalyzing event or new inspiration, he or she will be inherently unmotivated to seriously think about shifting behaviors and will not welcome interventions or suggestions by others.
Contemplation. Characterized by an interest in taking action sometime soon (say, within six months), this “thinking about it” phase generally sees a person weighing the costs and benefits of making the change. Barring the emergence of some new urgency or information, this phase can persist for a very long time (a phenomenon known as “behavioral procrastination”). True contemplators are not ready for interventions that require immediate action, but they may be willing to take in new perspectives, ideas or examples (like the ones in this article) that help move them into the Preparation phase.
Preparation. A person in this stage has made a decision and intends to take action in the immediate future (commonly defined as 30 days) and may already be taking steps (such as joining a health club or signing up for a fitness class) or actively seeking out “how-to” information and skills that will move him forward. At this point, offers of help and opportunities to learn or try something new are more likely to be welcomed.
Action. A person in this phase has actually begun doing something (or a lot of things) differently. She has made some positive changes to her lifestyle within the past few months and may be experimenting with others. Even if the behavioral changes are small, they hold the potential for building momentum, knowledge and self-confidence, all of which encourages continued action and exploration.
Maintenance. During this phase, the new behavior gradually becomes part of a new lifestyle and identity, and over time, the risk of relapsing into old behaviors decreases.
Termination. At some point, when we are no longer tempted to revert to our former behavior, the behavior-change process is considered complete (or at least, completely integrated) — but that doesn’t mean we’re done changing. On the contrary, we may feel inclined to take on additional goals or broader challenges that build on our earlier successes, and effectively begin the cycle of change and discovery once again.
Although it’s possible to move back and forth between any of the phases in the TTM, any significant forward progress is almost always accompanied by physical and emotional rewards that fuel each other, creating an expanding cycle of personal growth and effectiveness that breeds continued healthy evolution.
“A physical transformation improves everything from mental acuity to self-discipline,” says Peterson. “You start holding yourself to a higher standard.” Just as important, you may connect with a higher sense of purpose and awareness about what works for you, and what doesn’t.
If you’re reading this article, chances are good that you’re already well into the Contemplation phase or beyond, which means you can benefit from the inspirations and examples of others. To that end, we think you’ll enjoy meeting three people who overhauled their health and fitness in important ways, and who have reaped terrific rewards.
All of them got in touch with an intrinsic desire that got them moving. And once they made some outer lifestyle adjustments, even greater inner transformations followed.
Their stories just may inspire you to undertake a fitness transformation of your own.
Home: Fredericksburg, Va.
Former fitness profile: Out-of-shape track coach
New fit ID: Senior Olympian
Current fitness favorite: The natural high after a workout
Trigger: Wanting a better quality of life (post-pacemaker)
Ever since Milt Silverstein won his first sprint, a 40-yard dash as a 6-year-old growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., he has loved the thrill of racing. From winning neighborhood races in high school and conference championships in college, to staying in shape while serving in World War II and the Korean War, Silverstein’s identity centered around his athleticism.
But he hung up his running shoes in 1947, when he took a teaching job in Long Island, N.Y. At 28, he was sure that his racing opportunities were over. For the next 29 years, he coached track and cross-country — cheering his athletes at meets and aching to be running with them.
Gradually, though, he became more sedentary. Occasionally, when he felt particularly out of shape, he’d speed-walk five miles. But with just a vague notion that he should exercise more, and nothing to train for, he began to put on weight, peaking in his 40s at about 185 pounds on his 5-foot-9-inch frame. “I didn’t feel there was any use running, because I couldn’t do anything with it,” he says.
But Silverstein was developing health problems, including high blood pressure. He didn’t think about his diet; during his running years, he developed a fast metabolism that kept him trim — and fostered an illusion that he could eat anything he liked. Near the end of his teaching career, he began to have dizzy spells and noticed his pulse beating irregularly. In 1980, after doctors installed a pacemaker, he decided to retire and spent the next year doing nothing. “I was afraid,” he recalls. “The doctors told me I could do things, but I didn’t believe it.”
Without work, travel or exercise, Silverstein was miserable. “I decided I couldn’t live like that,” he says. “If you don’t have quality of life, there’s no sense in living.”
So a year later, he and his wife, Rhoda, moved to Tucson, where the climate allowed them to more fully enjoy the outdoors. He started speed-walking seriously, and the fear vanished. “I realized if anything would have happened, it would have happened right away,” he says. “So I thought, ‘If that’s the case, I want to see if I can still run.’”
At a local track meet in 1988, Silverstein happened to strike up a conversation with another spectator, who told him about the Senior Olympics. The meet was just a month
away, but Silverstein signed up for three events. “When I started to practice again, I felt like my legs didn’t belong to my body,” he says. But for the first time since college, he had a goal. So he happily persevered, despite the new aches in his 68-year-old body.
He took second place in his first event, the 50-meter dash — despite pulling a hamstring. It made him realize he could still compete. “I knew I was an athlete again,” he says.
A coach at the nearby University of Arizona drew up a training schedule, and Silverstein readily recalled the physical components of training. He also revamped his diet, eating a balance of carbohydrates and protein that energized him. He started eating more raw fruits and vegetables, and supplemented his diet with a multivitamin and fish oil pills.
He trimmed down to 155 pounds, his ideal racing weight, and quickly started garnering attention in his age group.
Silverstein went on to win the 100-yard dash in the over-75 category at the Penn Relays in 1996. He topped the field in the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the 2000 Tucson Senior Olympics. And he has twice broken the national record for the long jump (in two different age groups).
Today, Silverstein’s fitness routine involves a mile warm-up walk, stretching, five minutes of fast cycling, five minutes on the treadmill, weights for legs and upper body, and plyometrics. That’s before he starts his sprint work. Silverstein goes through that routine three days a week; on his “off” days, he walks on a treadmill. He maintains his weight by scaling back portion sizes as he ages.
When others see him lifting weights or sprinting at the gym, they can’t believe Silverstein is 89 years old. In fact, he can hardly believe it when he’s on the starting line at a track meet. “The competition, the camaraderie — it makes me feel like I’m in college again,” he says.
Silverstein is currently attempting a comeback after a two-year layoff spent tending to his wife, who died last fall after battling lymphoma. But he has managed to start training again, with an eye on the 2009 National Senior Games.
Nothing, he says, makes him feel more alive. And now that he feels this great, nothing is going to convince him to go back to a sedentary low-vitality existence.
Former fitness profile: Didn’t recognize herself in her plus-size body
New fit ID: Super-fit runner
Current fitness favorite: Group runs around local lakes
Trigger: Feeling lousy, fatigued and depressed; finding new inspiration
A little over a year ago, running for even 30 seconds left Kaeti Hinck exhausted. Her frenetic lifestyle in college — working two jobs, studying, consuming a diet of fast food, pizza and cola — had left her overweight and lethargic.
“Outside of two required PE classes, I visited the gym a total of three or four times — and some of those were reporting stories for the school newspaper,” she admits. “I’d never identified as an athlete, and I didn’t particularly want to show everyone in the fitness center my fat jiggling around.”
A few half-hearted attempts at workout videos in her dorm room didn’t last long. And by the time Hinck was ready to graduate, her 5-foot-11-inch frame was carrying close to 200 pounds. She ran a mile in 14 minutes — finishing dead last — in her final PE class. Still, the nutrition classes she was taking left an impression, and she renewed her pledge to improve her health once she got her cap and gown.
“I stopped and really thought about how I felt, and realized that I was miserable — physically and emotionally,” she says. “I felt depressed, fatigued and hopeless.”
Two days after her graduation in May 2007, Hinck found some inspiration — and information — as she began an internship at Experience Life. She started reading back issues of the magazine, stashing away tips that helped her develop a sustainable approach to diet and exercise. “Just making the decision to actually do something about it made me feel better, like I had a plan and that things might be better someday,” she says.
Free of the confinements of kitchenless dorm living, she shopped and cooked for herself, choosing mostly organic whole foods. She cut out soda and high-fructose corn syrup completely — a challenge for someone who was spoon-fed cola as a baby. And she started a walking and running program, knowing she’d be more likely to stick to something that required just shoes and grit.
Her first day out, Hinck ran less than a mile — in 30-second spurts. She felt horrible, but went back the next day. And the next. About six weeks later, she was able to run almost a full mile without stopping. As she built up her mileage, eventually conquering the four-mile circuit around a nearby lake, she began to love running — and the results.
“It was a great feeling to see my body working with me as I lost weight,” she says. “I didn’t feel like I was restricting myself — instead, I focused on giving myself more — more whole foods, more activity, more rest and relaxation. And more than any changes in appearance, I think I benefited most from changing my attitude toward my body. I actually treated it with care and respect, and, as a result, I learned to love my body for exactly what it is.”
Hinck had shed about 60 pounds by the time she ran her first 5K in March 2008. About a month later, though, she strained her calf and struggled to return to her routine once it healed.
“Without weight loss as a major motivator to get my butt out the door, it was harder to stick to the consistent fitness schedule,” she recalls. “At that point, I had to re-evaluate the core values that were motivating my health and fitness goals. It meant reaffirming that I wasn’t doing this solely for weight loss, but rather as a way to be as healthy and happy as possible for the long haul. By clarifying and solidifying the basic motivations for what I was doing, I was able to get back on track with my running and fitness in general.”
Hinck now runs five days a week, interspersing solo runs with group outings, and easy runs with interval work. She recharges with at least one yoga session a week. Last October, she completed her first half-marathon, and she is considering a triathlon. She has become an athlete.
“I wish so much that I could go back to that PE class and run the seven-minute mile I know I can do now,” she says.
Home: Omaha, Neb.
Former fitness profile: Sedentary businessman
New fit ID: Energetic, go-getter CEO
Current fitness favorite: Pilates
Trigger: Being told he’d never build killer abs on his own
Back in college, Shiva Prakash played cricket and badminton and assumed he’d always stay in decent shape. But after graduating, he pursued his business career with a single-mindedness that left fitness by the wayside. The higher he climbed, the more sedentary he became. By October of 2007, at age 43, he had reached many of his career goals, but he had never felt so miserable.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the mirror,” he says. “I was barely able to walk, I was taking oral steroids for bronchial asthma, and I was about to spend a lot of money on liposuction.” Deep down, he knew the quick fix probably wouldn’t last, but he was desperate. At the last minute, a glib comment from a doctor made him realize surgery wasn’t the answer: She said he could never get six-pack abs on his own.
That remark left him seething. Never one to be told he couldn’t do something, Prakash joined a new gym, determined to show her the results. Soon, though, he realized why her comment struck a chord: He wasn’t inclined to work as hard for his health as he had for his career.
At the gym, a body-age analysis showed Prakash’s 43-year-old body was behaving like a 54-year-old’s. At 5-foot 10-inches, he weighed 244 pounds; his waist was 44 inches. “I was eating three really heavy meals a day,” he remembers, which included steaks, fried chicken, rice, pasta, pizza — and whiskey. He couldn’t complete two minutes of cardio. He was worried about his health.
Soon after he committed to turning things around, he was hitting the gym five days a week. Without immediate results, he relied on his trainer’s encouragement to continue. Six weeks in, he started losing weight. “I could feel the energy, and it helped to eat right,” he says. The change was uplifting, but he knew he had a long way to go — he was still nowhere near his target weight. The camaraderie he found in his Pilates class helped inspire him; in fact, he likes nothing more than convincing others to take a class.
Prakash’s current routine includes weights, rowing and core exercises, in addition to his beloved Pilates. He’s shifted his comfort-food diet to a steady intake of fish, vegetables, grilled chicken and whole grains. The changes have energized him so much that even his business benefited. “People look at me with more respect and believe in me more,” he says. “Before, I used to find the easy way out. Now, I’m more determined to take up challenges.”
As his metabolism and energy increased, he started challenging his colleagues to get fit, too: He even inspired a coworker to join a gym and challenged her to quit smoking (she managed to give up her 25-year habit). His wife and children also got on board, each drawing up a fitness routine. The support system Prakash created paid off.
Now, at 186 pounds, he feels more relaxed and focused. He carries himself more confidently — and even claims he dresses better, since he’s had to update his wardrobe frequently. “I couldn’t believe the transformation myself,” he says. “I’ve been recommending getting fit to my friends and everyone I come into contact with.”
Sheila Mulrooney Eldred blogs at Go Mom Go (www.gofastmommy.com).
Get Out of Your Rut
Looking to get unstuck? Congrats, that’s a sure sign you’ve moved beyond Precontemplation! Sally Edwards, author of Triathlons for Women (VeloPress, 2002) and CEO of Heart Zones USA (www.heartzones.com), has some suggestions for you. Embrace (or at least try) any you feel ready for:
Look inward. “Search your heart and find what motivates you,” suggests Edwards. Get clear about why you want to be fit. Then, gear your fitness pursuits to your personal interests. If you love music, try a new dance class. If you want to improve core strength, try Pilates or yoga. If you want to up your energy level, try higher-intensity cardio training.
Be a joiner. Hire a coach, find a team, take a class, or hook up with a buddy. The new know-how and accountability can keep you focused and motivated. “That support structure is key,” says Edwards.
Assess (and reassess) your fitness level. Edwards suggests signing up for a metabolic assessment or other fitness test. The results of these assessments provide great inspiration and valuable progress benchmarks, all of which can inspire you to keep moving forward. (For details on these tests, see “By the Numbers” in the November 2004 archives.)
Complete the sentence, I never thought I could ________ . Then do it. If jumping right in is too scary, do some reconnaissance first, Edwards suggests: Check out books, Web sites or just watch that kickboxing class from the doorway before you sign up. “We tend to stick to things that don’t have a lot of risk,” she says. “This is a really good way to feel a sense of achievement.”
Evaluate Your Readiness
Looking to make your own fitness transformation happen? Consider your level of readiness to change and which ideas and attitude shifts might have the most value for you now.
Precontemplation: It’s surprising you’re reading this article. Are you sure you’re not a contemplator?
Contemplation: You can benefit from catalyzing opportunities and insights. These can be triggered by negative experiences (a health scare, for example) or by positive inspiration and examples. Look for ways to connect with your desires and sense of purpose in choosing to be more fit.
Preparation: You can increase your momentum toward action by seeking learning, encouragement and social support — and by “experimenting” with changes, even if you’re not yet fully ready to commit to them.
Action: You can benefit from all of the above, but especially from a steady supply of fresh insights and experiences that help you resist getting frustrated by plateaus, boredom or setbacks — and that keep you fully engaged.
Maintenance: Celebrate your progress toward consistency, and begin taking on new challenges that encourage you to keep evolving and refining your skills. Focus on raising your game, having fun, trying new things, etc.
Termination: Think of where you’re at as “integration” — not an end, but the beginning of something even more exciting. Take stock of your shifting identity, and be on the lookout for the next challenge or goals — including new ways (and “whys”) to put your increased fitness, energy and confidence to good use. Look for ways to share what you know and to use your own experience to help and motivate others.
Beyond: Confronted with a major life change or challenge, even people well into maintenance or termination mode can find themselves thrown off their previously healthy track and forced to start over at an earlier stage of the TTM process. Change is often easier the second time around, however, and the skills you developed the first time typically make subsequent changes less awkward and halting.
As the profiles in this story illustrate, life happens, priorities shift. But just because health and fitness fell off your “what matters” map doesn’t mean you can’t put them right back on when you’re ready. The path of change begins with a single step — and the willingness to take another.