Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Survival Fitness: What's Your New Year's Resolution?

This is the time of year when lots of people make New Year's resolutions, and many of those resolutions involve commitments to get back in shape.  A lot of those thoughts are fueled by guilty feelings brought on by eating rich holiday foods in excess, as well as general increased levels of depression from being stuck inside a lot more during the winter months.  Unfortunately, most people don't stick to their New Year's resolutions any more than they do most fitness goals they may set at other times of the year.

The reason is that most people see getting back in shape as a temporary problem that they think they can solve in a few weeks.  When it doesn't happen, they just give up and go back to their old ways, quickly undoing any fitness gains they may have made.  To be successful at long-term fitness, you must change your way of thinking about it and make it a permanent part of your lifestyle.  This doesn't mean you have to join an expensive gym and go work out with a bunch of sweaty strangers in public, but you've got to make a conscious effort to get regular exercise and eat sensibly if you expect lasting benefits.

I've written about this before, but when it comes to survival preparedness, nothing you can buy in the way of gear or equipment can make as much difference in your odds of getting through a disaster as having the proper mindset and the physical conditioning to deal with adversity.  Many people don't want to hear that, as it is easier to purchase a bunch of stuff than to actually get outdoors and subject themselves to rigorous camping trips, hikes, bike rides or survival skills training exercises.  But the more challenges you put yourself through physically, the more confidence you will gain in your abilities, and it is that confidence that gives you the mindset you need.

We live in a time when everyday life is easier than it has ever been, in terms of physical effort needed to accomplish necessary tasks.  For many people, seeking comfort is a primary goal and they have become so accustomed to always experiencing comfortable temperatures, safe and secure living and working environments and a limitless supply of infinitely varied food and drink that they would go to pieces if these things were taken away.

Rigorous exercise is one way to quickly snap your body out of the comfort zone.  By stressing your muscles and aerobic capacity you can gradually condition yourself to become comfortable with increasing levels of activity to the point where you will actually begin to enjoy it and want to push harder.  The key to this enjoyment though is to find exercise activities that you actually like doing.  For me, hiking, paddling a canoe or kayak or riding a bicycle are all things I look forward to.  I may not get as much enjoyment out of the dumbbell workout routine I do three times per week, but by keeping it sensible and limiting the amount of time it takes to complete it, it's been easy to stick with it.   I've also been involved in the martial arts since my early teens, and while I'm not actively practicing Kenpo in a school these days, I still do a daily stretching routine first thing in the morning and often go through forms, techniques and basics to maintain at least some of my ability.

This year one of my main fitness goals is to increase my weekly mileage on my road bike and participate in several century (100-mile) rides.  I've found that long-distance bike riding is one of the most enjoyable aerobic workouts for me, and I like it much better than running, which seems like drudgery.  If I can get in a decent ride a few times per week I feel a whole lot better, have much more energy and can eat just about anything I want without worry.  If I had the time to do it, I would prefer to spend my days canoeing or kayaking or back country hiking in some stunning mountain wilderness, but that's just not feasible nearly as often as a one or two hour bike ride.  I'm fortunate to live in an area where I have many miles of quiet country roads with little traffic, good hills and smooth pavement right outside my door.

With two major book projects to complete in the next few months, I'm forced to spend a lot of time sitting in a chair with a keyboard in front of me as are many people in this strange lifestyle our modern technology has enabled.  For me, it's essential to take frequent activity breaks and use other parts of my body besides my fingers.  Fitness has to be more than a New Year's resolution.  It has to be a lifestyle, especially as you get older, if you want to continue doing the things that were effortless in your teens and twenties.

A lifestyle of fitness is also essential you are to have any hope of surviving the kind of major upheaval many preppers are concerned about.  If you're reading survival blogs such as this one, you've probably at least given some thought to scenarios that could snap you out of a high-tech life of ease in a heartbeat.  If so, what are you doing to keep your mind and body prepared to deal with it?  Have you made a New Year's resolution to get back in shape?  If so, will you give up on it by February or March, or are you ready to go beyond temporary resolutions you can't keep and change your lifestyle permanently?


  1. My personal goal is to lose some weight (40 lbs.) and KEEP IT OFF, as in for good. I don't have problems keeping with a diet until it stops working (2 -3 weeks), its the part of holding my appetite that kills me. My cousin uses the 'eat what you can hold in the palm of your hands' method, he's pretty pumped about that one.

    Physical activity - yeah, I need to get out and work out, at least walk. Two kids with homework - I don't have enough time in the evening to do it, so it would have to be before work in the morning.

  2. Anonymous: Try splitting your meals up into five smaller ones per day rather than two or three big ones like most people are conditioned to eat. That works better for me than any diet and you don't feel hungry all the time. As for working out, time is always a factor but you can probably find a way to fit it in. Workouts don't have to take long if they are intense.

  3. Great post Scott, I started lifting and hiking (along with diet) back in March and have dropped 119 lbs. so far. All the gear in the world means nothing if you can't use it because of physical limitations. Once you get past that first month or so of being sore, you've got it licked. Start slow and build up your distances. Could barely do a mile when I started, now 6.5 miles 5 times a week is the norm.

    Everyone that is trying to lose weight (myself included), keep it up; it gets easier!!

  4. Sirea: That's a fantastic accomplishment you should certainly be proud of and an inspiration to anyone! You're right, it does get easier the more you do it.

  5. Great Post Scott!

    I think you've hit a nerve with the public by recognizing that it's hard to keep going on the fitness "road". I've been working out since I was 17 (I'm 41 now) and the primary thing that's kept me going is having a reason to be fit.

    Personally, I differetiate a reason from a goal, because they're two seperate motivators to my mind. A goal is a short-medium term end result, like losing some weight, looking good for summer, or perparing for an athletic event, while a reason is a long term end result, like wanting to always be able to defend yourself or your family, or to meet the needs of a physically demanding job.

    I stick with reasons to stay fit, and I'd like to encourage folks reading this blog post of yours to consider both goals and reasons for staying fit.

    A REASON should be:
    -based in reality, being something you'd reasonably expect to prepare for.
    -achievable, but challenging, something that takes effort and discipline to accomplish and maintain.
    -long term focus, being something that you can spend years (or the rest of your life) working on and maintaining.

    A GOAL should be:
    -achievable in the short to medium term.
    -something that pushes you out of your comfort zone.
    -something measurable, so that you can see when you've met the goal (avoid "moving targets")
    -timely, so that you can push yourself before the "deadline".

    I hope that adds something to the discussion.


  6. Hi Kurt, excellent points! I like that comparison between reasons and goals. Long term focus is the important element in the big picture and is the only way to really incorporate a lasting fitness and survivor's mentality into your lifestyle. You've obviously done that and if you've been working out that many years you will probably do so the rest of your life.

  7. My news years resolutions the last two years were more sensible. It was simple "Run more often during the year." I never said how often or how far I would run. I've done that before and it set me up for failure once I missed it for a couple of weeks.

    By simply stating that I'll run more I have been motivated throughout the year to run more than I did the year before. Now I've incorporated hiking into it (which I find much much more enjoyable than running). I'd also like to bring biking in, but that'll probably have to wait until I can afford a bike.

  8. Adam, that's certainly one way to do it. The key to staying in shape is always to stay active. No matter what the particular activity, doing more of it more often and eating less (if you're trying to lose weight) is always good.

    It's true that good bikes can be expensive, but there are some great deals out there on used ones if you look around on Craigslist. Most people lose interest after a short time and sell them for a fraction of what they paid. The same is true of other exercise equipment like weights and benches.


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