If you walked into a range of different gyms or studios in Melbourne and asked a trainer in each what the single most important factor in determining the state of your health and fitness was, you would get different answers…
You’re eating too many grains.
You’re not eating enough low-GI carbs.
You need to do more cardio.
You need to do less cardio.
You’re eating too much saturated fat.
Stop eating dairy.
You need to lift more weights.
You need to move less.
Eat less meat.
This is by no means an exhaustive list – the truth is that fitness professionals will struggle to choose just one piece of sagely advice about your health and fitness. Not only will they struggle, they will argue. Your presence will fade into the background, your question not a breath of fresh air, just oxygen to fan the flames as they wax lyrical about the do’s and don’ts.
In exasperation, you will no doubt turn to your smartphone and ask everyone’s most reliable source of information – the Internet – particularly when it comes to their health and fitness.
To your dismay, you will discover that the same arguments are also taking place in cyberspace, except on a much grander scale and in more convoluted detail.
Trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, you will discover you should ditch the wheat entirely; don’t you know that gluten is poison? Is quinoa a seed or a grain? Wait it’s neither, it’s a pseudo-grain. I guess we will ditch the porridge entirely too. Welcome to the world where the people eating bircher muesli for breakfast are the unhealthy ones.
I won’t tell you that the answers you have heard before don’t matter. I am not here to stride forth into the fray of fitness ideologies waving my banner high. The dissent among fitness industry professionals, enthusiasts and gurus is not doing anyone any favours or addressing Australia’s growing obesity rates.
We don’t need to discover a perfect way to exercise, or the perfect way to eat. We just don’t. We already know enough. Would the knowledge be useful? Yes. But necessary? No.
The answers we need to discover are why people find it so damn hard to eat and exercise consistently. So that is my answer, the single most important factor in determining your state of health: consistency.
Even an average exercise program completed consistently is going to trump doing the “perfect” program inconsistently every single time. Remember the tortoise and the hare? Eating within any of numerous nutritional frameworks, consistently, is going to reap greater benefits than constantly striving for perfection and repeatedly falling short…into a tub of ice cream.
Are there healthier foods to eat than others? Absolutely. Are some exercises more appropriate to specific goals than others? Definitely.
Are the marginal differences haggled over by the experts useful to you?
Probably not. As much as some of us might like to consider ourselves “athletes”, chances are we’re not. Shaving a second off your time might be important if you’re Usain Bolt and it means the difference between gold and silver, but for someone who defines “winning” as being able to go for a hike with their teenage son, the importance of reaching that point a week or even a month earlier is inconsequential.
However, if choosing the program that will get you there quicker means choosing the program that is nearly impossible to stick to then that choice will have substantial fall-out.
So instead of asking yourself what is the best way, ask yourself what is the best way for you to be consistent?
What is most important to you?
Maybe it’s happiness? That’s what it’s all about, right? Putting smiles on faces. For those of us that enjoy exercise, having friendly faces to train alongside is going to matter more than brand-spanking new kettlebells (or any kind of ‘bells). For those that don’t, you will want quick, efficient workouts that get you out the door to some place you’d rather be. Let’s be honest, even people who love exercise hate burpees (I know this to be true because I did a poll at the three CrossFit boxes within a stone’s throw of my house. Not that I throw stones, that’s more of a primal workout than I’m currently into right now).
People don’t take safety seriously enough. I don’t care if that makes me sounds like something your dad might say (sometimes there is genuine wisdom mixed in with all those puns). It’s true. Your knees will thank me when you’re 40-something and you can still climb a flight of stairs without wanting to jump off the top when you get there. So take a minute to consider the long view. Think about who you want to continue to be not just who you want to be next summer, because unfortunately when you’re palming off cash hand over fist to your trainer they’re certainly not thinking that perhaps you should be training less.
I read a book on self-control once, couldn’t put it down. Basically the gist of it was that controlling your environment is a much better tactic than relying on strength of will alone. With this in mind think about how access is going to impact your eating and exercise consistency. Keep your apples close and your chocolate interstate. Join a gym or studio that isn’t so far away that you need a packed lunch and a petrol stop to get there.
In short, your health and fitness will be far better served by asking yourself what influences your training and nutritional consistency rather than in asking a trainer, nutritionist or health coach which approach is the “best”.
And the best thing about these answers is that they are your own.