Ever wanted to totally change your life but don’t know where to start?

In 2003 I noticed that my life was rapidly changing…

My home life was doing well, my daughter was just graduating an American High School and entering a highly accredited university in North Carolina. The small office I was charged to build in central Virginia was successful beyond expectation and I was being promoted to the main office to start the next phase of my career. I no longer had the time to devote to a side business that I successfully built and ran for over a decade and was in the process of shutting it down.

Everything was moving in the right direction.

Everything, that is except for my health and fitness.

At some point in our 20’s and 30’s we tend to take this for granted. We tend to focus on our families, careers and social life, but forget about one of the most important facets of life that allow us to do these things. We tend to think, as most youth do, that we’re indestructible and can do whatever we want to our bodies and worry about it later.

We think we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want, and never gain weight: I could eat an entire large pizza on my own and not feel the slightest bit guilty. There was also the snack machine that was not too far from my desk. I can remember regularly hitting it up for Worcester-flavoured pretzels and various styles of corn and potato crisps about three to four times a day.

We also think we can smoke as much as we want without getting winded. The snack machine breaks were usually coupled with who knows how many smoke breaks. I used to smoke up to 60 menthol cigarettes (three packs) a day. Even worse, I used to chain smoke if I was deeply involved in a project – going through roughly 200 cigarettes (a carton) in just a couple of days.

The problem is that perceived time relatively shrinks as we age, getting quicker and quicker. Before you know it, “later” has come a lot sooner than you thought it would. I was always a skinny kid with a high metabolism. Before I knew it, my weight had ballooned to a point where I was completely unrecognisable. I became so out of shape that I couldn’t hold a squat long enough to fill my car tyres at a filling station – and even then my belt was so tight I had to hold my breath on each one. I had come to the conclusion that if I didn’t do something quickly to fix this, it was going to do me.

At the ripe “old” age of 44, already hell-bent on success in other areas of my life, I knew it wasn’t going to get any easier the longer I waited. I was driving a 2000 silver Mustang GT convertible at the time. What’s one more thing to make my mid-life crisis complete? The fact of the matter was that I thought it was going to get exponentially harder the closer I got to 50.

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It was then that I decided to take control over this problem and make some changes in my life, because it wasn’t going to happen all at once. In order to accomplish this, I set some reasonable and very achievable goals, which also required a strong personal commitment: I wanted to lose a bit of the weight within a year, quit smoking within two years, then lose the rest of the weight and get in shape within six years. The main goal was to reset the clock, and my body, to where I was in my uni days by the time I hit 50.

I can proudly say that I achieved all of these goals in the set timeframes. On 5 March 2015 it will have been ten years since my last cigarette. Not only did I hit my uni weight by the time I was 50, but have continued my commitment, losing a total of 4.3 stone (60 pounds) and by maintaining an athletic lean body mass of at least 95%.

Health and Fitness in the Modern Era: Why I Exercise
Why I Exercise:
Left: Nov 2007, roughly 2.5 years after quitting smoking.
Right: Dec 2014, at a race in Washington, DC.

So why tell this story?

Some other things have changed in the last ten years: Obesity is at crisis levels in Western cultures.

Here in the US, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated in 2014 that 9.3% of the population had diabetes, with over a quarter of that being undiagnosed. Similarly, a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) determined that although based on Body Mass Index, 62% of Britons and 66% of Americans were clinically overweight or obese in 2013 – an increase of 13% (16% in the US) since 1980.

The CDC also reported in 2014 that the percentage of smokers aged 18 and older dropped from 20.9% of the population in 2005, to only 17.8% in 2013. Yet in fact, 18.7% of young adults aged 18-24, and 20.1% of those between 25-44 still smokes today – both figures well above the national average. With the baby boomers such as myself now well out of that age range, it means more and more young adults per capita are turning to smoking.

This is an extremely dangerous state of affairs and shows just how unhealthy and unfit we have become.

Health and fitness is something that can be achieved by everyone. If there’s one thing I know, it’s really never too late to change. Nor is it even that hard. Technology and techniques have made it so anyone can quit smoking, lose weight, and get fit despite age or ability.

The main purpose of this series is to share, over the coming weeks, some of the things that worked (and didn’t work) for me in the hopes that it might help others to accomplish these same goals.

Next Week: Step 1 – Quitting smoking with the least amount of pain