I Was Dead Wrong
I thought becoming a full-time runner would make me slender and as fit as I have ever been. I was dead wrong. I lost muscle mass, became slightly bloated, and gained some weight.
This all happened through a poor decision I made to make jogging my primary means of exercise, which previously had only been done sporadically. I even allowed my gym membership to lapse, so I could take to jogging outdoors full-time.
I had grown tired of doing the same exercises in the gym, week after week, year after year. I had completely plateaued in gaining any strength. The joy of working out at the gym had been waning. Being in my late 30’s I also started growing leery of shouldering big weight plates in the squat rack.
Becoming a full-time jogger instead, I thought, would reinvigorate my exercise routine and turn me into a lean, mean, jogging machine. It was a major misstep in my pursuit of physical fitness. I completely miscalculated the positive impact that strength training had been making on my ability to maintain lean muscle mass.
Stoking The Competitive Fire
I thought I loved everything about jogging. I got to listen to music while I exercised and it was a way for me to compete without involving other people or joining any leagues.
Even though I am not interested in joining formal athletic leagues I do recognize the benefit, both mentally and physically, in competing at something. The challenge of pushing myself beyond a previous physical or emotional barrier through jogging seemed to be my perfect outlet for stoking my competitive flame.
So there I was, a full-time jogger. I had my jogging app, to track distance and pacing of my runs. I had my litany of fiery playlists on Spotify to keep me motivated. I was getting after it. I was jogging the most miles, at the best miles per minute pace I had ever jogged before. I was competing against myself, my prior times, and I was getting better.
Something Went Wrong
Over time, something became amiss, though. I was oddly starting to gain weight and seemed to be losing muscle mass. I also started to feel mentally fatigued by the idea of getting myself up and out the door for the runs. How could this be the return for all my investment of time and effort into being a full-time jogger?
I thought I was going to become fitter and find more joy in exercising by ditching the gym and jogging full-time instead, but the decision was failing me. I was increasing the durations of my jogs and improving my mile per minute time, while my body composition was devolving.
In fairness to jogging, there were some other factors at play that converged on my state of unwinding wellness at the time. I think the decision to allow my gym membership to lapse, which meant the elimination of weight training entirely from my fitness efforts, was a critical mistake.
Weight training is noted to have a considerable impact on body composition. As we age we also decline in our ability to maintain muscle mass, so some component of resistance training becomes vital to strength and conditioning.
Other Detracting Factors
My diet at that time, while at face value as a Paleo enthusiast was disciplined, was contributing to my unwinding as well. I was in need of some fine tuning. I was still being too dependent on carbs as an energy source, in particular, heavy amounts of fruit in the morning hours and surrounding jogs.
I was also probably eating too much meat and protein at certain meals. I had not yet been exposed and informed to the benefits of a high-fat diet and becoming a fat burner, as Mark Sisson likes to say. The excessive fruit and meat, with not enough of an emphasis on fats, seemed to be contributing to the slight weight gain too.
I knew I had to make a change to turn around my body composition. I also wanted to find joy in exercising again. The long jogs had become cumbersome and taxing. I was kidding myself thinking I could emotionally and physically sustain going out constantly on these 3 to 5+ mile runs.
Opting For Walking
I recalled a conversation I had with a good friend who was a staunch advocate of walking. He completely disavowed jogging and swore he got as much if not more benefit from long, brisk walks. So I made the switch, ditched the jogs for fast walks, and immediately relished the decision.
My desire to get out the door increased tenfold. The frequency of walks I could take compared to jogging increased dramatically, even walking twice within a day at times. It was such a revelation that I could enjoy going for a walk and yet still feel some physical effects from the brisk pace. I was noticeably still getting a workout in but completely eliminating the physical wear and tear of a 5+ mile jog.
I am aware of the character that can be built by fighting through resistance and getting yourself up to exercise, but people have to set themselves up to win those mental battles. There is no badge of honor for setting yourself up with too much struggle in your exercise routine.
I was initially blind to the stress I was causing myself, both physically and mentally, through my lofty ideals of being a dedicated jogger. I think this is easy for people to do to themselves when it comes to exercise and physical fitness. People need to commit to what is realistic and achievable at the onset. After the habit of a positive routine is established, you can then take incremental steps towards breaking through your own personal barriers and plateaus.
Find What Works For You
This is not a rallying cry to get people to stop jogging. If you enjoy jogging and are experiencing nothing but positive and fulfilling results from your jogging routine, then absolutely stick with it. That is awesome and keep up the good work. If you are having any sort of challenges, though, with staying committed to an exercise program or even just getting started with one, maybe take a look at what you are attempting to do.
The older we get, the more important it is that we are simply active in life. Involving yourself in the latest fitness trend or engaging in marathon type training activities is just not necessary. This is about finding what works for you.
Simply getting up and moving is key. Staying active is critical for not only physical fitness but for mental clarity and emotional wellness as well. Adding some component of strength training can make a major impact on retaining muscle mass and our ability to balance as we age too.
Getting off the couch and going for walks does not even feel like an exercise program to me. It is just something I love to do. It gives me energy, resets my mental state, and also provides an opportunity to take in some nature.
For strength training, I now have a few kettlebells at home and joined a yoga studio. For a relatively cost-effective investment in some kettlebells, you can still forego a gym membership and maintain a powerful strength training program. Yoga has been a great outlet for building core strength, using nothing but my own body weight in doing so. Both kettlebells and the yoga have been complementary strength training platforms for me.
If you need to make a change to improve your physical or mental well-being, just get out and walk for 20 minutes. Start right now. Take a literal step towards some positive change.