Less is more. If I hadn’t experienced it for myself, I probably would be skeptical about the idea that daily application of 5 and 10 minutes of exercising could make such a dramatic change in my life. Even after more than a year, I’m still in awe as my results support the saying “Even the strongest blizzards start with a single snowflake.”
With my 50th birthday upon me, I couldn’t deny that I had gradually slipped into a lifestyle of being a sedentary middle-aged guy and was beginning to feel negative consequences. As I reflected on what I had become, I would replay in my head the words that Joe had mentioned to me about five years earlier. Joe was a vivacious Jack LaLanne-like fitness instructor and personal trainer who was nearing 80 when he warned me that the most critical window in a person’s life for how they are going to experience older age is determined between the ages of 50 and 65. He said if you have a good fitness practice during those years and you stay active and eat well, you not only improve the chances of living longer, you will have a strong likelihood of experiencing older age that is not riddled with pain and misery. He went on to warn that people who did nothing for their health accelerated the physical breakdown exponentially to the point where they might not even live into their seventies.
To the casual observer, I was “doing pretty well for someone my age”, but I knew that looks could be deceiving and I wasn’t what I used to be. At 5’11” and 193 pounds, I was about 15 pounds heavier than what I considered my desired weight. Sure, I could still fit into my 36-inch waist jeans, but I no longer needed a belt to hold them up anymore. The 34-inch jeans that used to be my size were in storage out of respect for a social contract that prevented me from being the middle-aged guy desperately trying to fool myself while others questioned why I was trying to stuff 10 pounds of crap into a 5-pound bag.
Clothes no longer fitting me properly was one thing, but the bigger concerns I had involved aches, pains, and physical limitations that were becoming more and more common as my norm. For example, sometimes I would go up the stairs and find myself breathing heavier than seemed appropriate. Another example would be having to run for the bus maybe just 2 blocks away and being severely out of breath by the time I got to the stop. Bending down to tie my shoes could make my organs feel compressed and cause me to have trouble breathing, and just my overall feeling within my body was that it was fossilizing. “Use it or lose it” was taking on a more experiential truth rather than just being the cliché I had heard many times.
And this was me at the doorstep of 50. I’d think of my friends that were 10, 15, and 20 years older saying how much WORSE everything was at their age and warning me not to get older! I was concerned that if 50 was already feeling like the wheels were falling off, then what was 60, 70, and beyond going to be like???
Eddie at 42
Fitness and physical activity were not unfamiliar concepts to me. Throughout my life, I had been a member of many gyms, had been very actively involved in ballroom dancing for several years, and had even lived at a yoga center for a couple of years. I had plenty of experience with exercising being a routine part of my life, so I knew what it was like to be in excellent shape.
But that was then. The only thing that mattered now was the present-day reality that I wasn’t doing my part to invest in myself and safeguard my physical well-being. I knew academically that I needed to “get the lead out”, and I would hear Joe’s portentous words rattling around in my head as the decrepitude continued to take hold, yet the (non) actions on my part were speaking for themselves.
Why not just do what I had always done: join a gym and make exercising a part of my life again?
In asking myself that question, I was inadvertently answering that very question.
Getting older does have some benefits, and one of them is acquiring – and applying – wisdom and knowing of thyself. In actively trying to learn from my life experiences and not repeat mistakes of my past, I had figured out that joining a gym never ends up being a long-term solution for me. The potential of joining the gym only to eventually stop going again had no appeal to me because it felt like I’d be repeating the failures of the past; for this reason, I continued to flounder.
Exercising at home seemed to be the obvious answer to eliminating the excuse that getting to the gym was the problem, yet I wasn’t doing that either. Historically, I did not have a good track record of exercising at home. I was stuck in a mindset that I needed to go to a gym or a yoga studio if I was going to exercise because I needed someone else to take the lead and tell me what to do. I liked group fitness classes where an instructor led the way; left to my own devices, I wasn’t good at self-directing my home exercising.
So I did nothing until the “five suit wake-up call”.
When I needed to put on a suit for my grandmother’s funeral that took place a month before I turned 50, I had to try on five of my suits before I could find pants that were serviceable to the point they wouldn’t burst at the seams if I sat down abruptly. That was the sobering moment I knew it was time to stop doing nothing.
No more excuses, time for sustainable solutions.
I didn’t start out saying, “I’m going to Selfseeds my way into better health”, but I did adopt a motto that a friend of mine coined: “Just don’t do nothing”. While I was mired in my paralysis of trying to figure out what I could do to save myself from myself, I did make the simple commitment of just doing something – ANYTHING – that was a deliberate act of investing in my fitness each day. I had no plan, no rhyme or reason to what I was doing, but I started by saying to myself, “There’s no excuse for not being able to put on a 5-minute YouTube exercise video and doing something.”
And that’s how it started. My initial goal was about developing the habit of exercising daily rather than having a specific workout plan. Starting small with intentions of just doing 5 or 10 minutes a day was originally about making it easy to tell myself there was no excuse to say I didn’t have time to exercise. This is where the wisdom of the 50-year-old me kicked in: I knew if I thought of exercising as requiring me to carve out a 45 to 90-minute block during the day, I would not stick with it. However, if I could do it all in under 30 minutes with no fuss and muss, I had a good chance of making it happen. With that in mind, I figured I could start small with 5 and 10 minutes a day as a bridge to the more serious 30 minutes a day.
As mentioned earlier, my preferred form of exercising was going to a group fitness class and following the lead of an instructor. I didn’t want to think, I just wanted to do, and I figured I could replicate this in my living room by following YouTube fitness videos. I had no fitness equipment at home other than a yoga mat and yoga blocks, so in the beginning, I’d search for 10-minute full body, no equipment required workouts and there were plenty to choose from.
Working out at home stripped away the hurdles of commuting to the gym, dealing with rotten winter weather, and being at the mercy of the group fitness class schedule. Also, I didn’t have to care what I looked like. I could do my stuff in my pajamas if I wanted, and I didn’t have to care about anyone overhearing me whimpering and whining like a baby seal as I struggled.
And struggle, I did. In the beginning, I couldn’t get through a 10-minute workout without cutting it short or modifying the movements and exercises. My extent of being out of shape was alarming to me, yet I didn’t get discouraged. I focused on the daily win of carving out the time to do my short workouts, and I didn’t beat myself up over what I could or couldn’t do anymore versus what I could do in the past.
I just wanted to build a habit of making exercise something I did daily, and I felt that by eliminating the #1 excuse that always derailed me in the past (the excuse of not having enough time), I could make fitness a permanent solution instead of being the punchline of the Japanese proverb “Beginning is easy – continuing hard”.
I think it also helped that my fitness goals at 50+ are different than they were in my youth. The younger me was driven by the cosmetic benefits I’d get from exercise, but the current day version of me is focused more on functionality, mobility, avoiding injury, and quality of life. I’m not going to deny that a slab of washboard abs is still appealing to me, but even more important now is the ability to stave off inertia, to stay in motion, and to build a body that is able to age gracefully and hopefully avoid disease so I can remain self-sufficient.So, a funny thing happened while I was engaged in this “temporary bridge” of super short workouts while I was supposed to be figuring out what my “real exercise regime” was going to be . . . I started getting unexpected incredible results! It didn’t happen overnight, but perhaps after about 2 months, I was noticing improvements not only in my body and my ability to complete workouts and not have to modify moves so drastically, but also in my mood and self-esteem. The fact that I was working out at home pretty much every day was amazing to me, and I attribute so much of that success to the mental agreement I have with myself that even at my most lazy, unmotivated, couch-potato worst, I’m able to take action by saying to myself, “Just do 5 minutes, bro’. Doing 5 minutes of ANYTHING is better than doing nothing.”
Me at 51 after a year of Selfseeding myself back into fitness.
And I have plenty of days where the 5-minute approach is the difference between action and non-action. Even though I have grown to where my usual time spent exercising is between 15 and 30 minutes, I sometimes have those days when I don’t want to do anything, or I feel my schedule for the day is too jammed to make the time. In the past, those would be the days I’d skip the gym altogether and that could be the beginning of an extended slide backwards. But invoking the “just don’t do nothing” motto allows me to feel I still accomplished something by just doing two sets of pushups for the day. Sometimes I’ll just follow a 5-minute ab workout on YouTube, or just do a 5-minute leg and butt workout. These shorter blasts of exercise benefit me physically, but more importantly, they keep the momentum moving forward as I still make the time to honor my daily fitness commitment.
Experiencing the benefits of the 5-minute workout has also led to frequently injecting them into cracks and crevices throughout the day. Have a few minutes before I meet with my next student? How about a couple of sets of dips using the chair I’m sitting in! Need a little break from my body rotting at the computer? Time to grab a resistance band and do few sets of serratus punches and bent over lat rows! Getting ready for bed and changing into my pajamas . . . look at that, my upper chest is actually showing some signs of building some muscle . . . let’s celebrate by dropping and giving myself a set of decline pushups before I crawl into bed!
I cannot overstate the satisfaction of being able to make significant improvements in my fitness by doing such short workouts on a daily basis. These results have literally destroyed everything I once believed was required for getting into shape. I’ve always thought I needed to do at least 20 minutes of exercise to derive benefits, but more realistically, 45 to 90 minutes to truly make meaningful gains. Now I see that gains can be made without having to design my entire day around when I would go to the gym. Yes, the results I’m getting from exercising are a key motivating factor for me to keep the train rolling forward, but I’m not going to pretend that the thing probably more responsible for “keeping me honest” is the fact that it takes so little time each day to make a difference and keep my commitment with myself. Whenever the forces of darkness start to creep in and try seducing me into inertia and inactivity, I go back to my saying of “Just do 5 minutes, bro’” and I do something productive. Often, that 5 minutes then mushrooms into 10 or 15 once I start getting the lead out.
Great progress!! Thank you Eddie for sharing your inspiring story!
In the almost 14 months that have transpired since the “five suit wake-up call”, I have transformed my body in ways I could not have imagined, especially for a guy my age. I got my weight under 180 pounds, can now fit into all my pants again (including my 34-inch jeans), and I feel a lot more agile and fluid. And yes, my body improved to the point where I can look in the mirror and say, “What?? Is that really MY body? I didn’t think I could ever make this kind of improvement again.”
Sue and I have known each other since the year 2000 and I’ve known her to be a strong advocate for the message of Selfseeds for a long time. As I went through this transformation, I realized I had adopted the Selfseeds philosophy to facilitate my fitness reawakening. When I told Sue what I had been up to and sent her a picture of my progress, she bounced the idea off me of writing about my experience for the Selfseeds blog.
I thought it would be great to help spread the message of Selfseeds because it works. The principles of steadily nurturing a seemingly small daily commitment have allowed me to reinvent myself physically, and I can see how this approach will have practical application in other aspects of my life.
In a world of shortened attention spans and distraction everywhere, I’m guilty of finding it harder than it used to be to stay focused on doing anything for an extended period of time. I am valuing any approach and philosophy that can help turn big overwhelming projects into smaller, bite-sized pieces, and that’s one of the benefits Selfseeds offers.