The Simplest Guide to Fitness You Will Ever Read

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Mike Donghia.

I used to be a gym rat back in my early college days. In the spring semester of my sophmore year, I worked hard in the weight room and put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle. It was fun while it lasted – during that particular season of my life.

These days, however, I’m more interested in staying fit and having fun and creating life long habits that keep me active.

I don’t really care about “getting big” or breaking personal records for the bench press. I don’t keep a log book of my workouts or measure progress from one week to the next. It’s not that these things are bad, I’ve just found that I don’t need them anymore. I’ve found a way that works better for me… a simpler, more enjoyable approach to staying fit.

The Problem with Exercise

For many people, the word “exercise” carries bad connotations. Words like boredom, drudgery, painful and exhausting come to mind. And because exercise feels like such a chore, we stop doing it and bad habits are formed that lead to years and years of sedentary living.

And it’s a darn shame that we feel this way, because staying fit can actually be a ton of fun. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that we don’t play anymore.

Instead of having fun with our bodies, we’re doing the same old exercises day in and day out: pushups, situps, bench press, squats, etc. But if you’d watch kids playing in a backyard for any length of time, you’ll realize that we don’t need to do all of these things to stay healthy and strong. What we really need is a playful spirit.

A Fun Solution

Now I’m not convinced that everything in life should be a breeze or that we should always run away from hard work. But when you’re trying to create a lifelong habit that literally means the difference between life and death – the first priority should be making a habit that sticks.

I read about too many people dying of heart disease and weight related disease to believe that will-power alone is enough to get people moving. At its core, exercise has to be something fun and creative — something that is enjoyable and doesn’t feel like a chore. It has to be more like play and less like a continuation of our jobs.

Here are just a few ways I like to stay active these days:

  • Digging massive holes at the beach
  • Walking to the library to get books
  • Playing touch-football and ultimate frisbee w/ friends
  • Trail running with my wife
  • Climbing just about anything that looks fun to climb
  • Biking to explore new places
  • Pull-up and push-up competitons against friends

Of course, almost any of these activities can feel like “real” exercise if you let them. Running can become a chore and so can biking – the thing is, I rarely set goals or expectations when I do these things. My mindset is more about being playful and quenching my curiorsity for life. It’s a mindset I’ve cultivated over time by slowly letting go of my need to control every single thing.

I fully realize that your list will look different than mine. What is fun for me may not be fun for you… but that’s exactly the point. We are all unique individuals with different definitions of fun. And one-size-fits-all exercise routines that miss that point often fail.

How to Make The Fitness Habit Stick

Instead of worrying about my body weight or appearance, I focus on being child-like and staying active. And that means not setting time limits or distance quotas to meet – that takes the fun out of it. I just run when I want to run, climb when I want to climb, and play when I feel like playing.

It’s the simplest approach to fitness I’ve ever tried, but it works. It works because it makes being active and having fun an end in itself. Insteading of doing exercise as a means to lose weight or build muscle, I’m doing it because I love it.

And that’s a habit that’s hard to break.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    It’s funny because when I read the word “exercise,” I immediately thoughts- “Something to do when super bored! FUN!” However, I’m someone who NEEDS to be active, so I crave exercise unlike most. For me, I enjoy weight lifting, I enjoy competitions (like when my husband and I had a press competition or V-up competition, etc.), and I can always be found dancing or doing acrobatics (former gymnast). Yoga is amazing too and is one of the only ways I can get myself to relax. Great post!

  2. says

    The most important part of exercise is making it a habit, a habit that you enjoy.
    When you do it becomes fun to go to the gym, to work out or play around on the beach.

    It is very important to stay in shape so any way you can is great.

  3. says

    Thanks for articulating this. Something changed when I left the gym and started exploring the highlands of Santa Barbara. My body lost some of it’s form, but it was also more childlike.

    So much talk of sustainability in the way we consume and produce; this “play” ethos is much more sustainable than “exercise.”

  4. says

    Great post Joshua!
    As a daily beach walker and friend of horse people who ride on the beach, please don’t dig massive holes in the sand unless you fill them in and pack them down before you leave.

    Living at the beach naturally draws me to a healthier outdoor lifestyle. Surrounded by the ocean and trails to hike I am living a dream. People tell me how ‘lucky’ I am, and I don’t argue, I am blessed. BUT I’ve made sacrifices to be here that most people wouldn’t make. I sold my big fancy house and acreage. I drive a 17 year old Volvo. I work from home (we are fairly remote here), and I’m not a ‘shopper’.

    Creating healthier habits sometimes begins with choosing different priorities.

  5. Jenny in NC says

    I have always hated the gym/pool/treadmill.
    I have, however, recently become a fan of running. Early in the morning, sometimes listening to tunes I love, sometimes listening to the crickets. At first I made the mistake of keeping a training log. But now I just run as often as I feel like it. Feels great.

  6. says

    I have been toying with the idea of getting more exercise (as I know I need it) and have been procrastinating, as the chore of formal ecercise, kept putting me off.

    However after reading those words, ‘FOCUS ON BEING CHILD-LIKE and staying active. And that means not setting time limits or distance quotas to meet’.

    Now that sounds like fun. You have really stirred up the ‘PLAYFUL SPIRIT’, in me.

    Thanks for a truly motivating post that I know I won’t just read, but put into action.

  7. says

    I do P90X regularly. I’ve been doing for a little while and by myself though so it has kind of gotten boring. I also just started working for myself so I can’t really afford any other fitness. I think a good idea is to find someone to work out with you. Be accountability partners for each other and just compete to be better. That’d make it fun and worth it for me.

  8. says

    I love this approach to exercise. I hate the gym. The idea of running on a treadmill for half an hour while staring a wall or a tv is torture. The only time I’ve ever been is for classes such as dance or boxing. Now that’s more me! So your approach to fun activities that keep you active and healthy is perfect for me. And your suggestions are great. Especially the climbing one. I haven’t climbed something since I was a kid and always thought it wasn’t something adults should do… maybe I need to change my thinking. Thanks for the post!

  9. Gil says

    I’ve been working out for over 30 years. Once you form the habit, it’s hard to break. I no longer “go to the gym”, but have discovered my own body as a gym within itself.

    I also agree that keeping it fun staves off boredom, which in turn leads to stopping altogether.

  10. says

    I only go to the gym for the classes. I love dancing, so that’s how I get my exercise in! My husband loves lifting, but I would never work out if that were my only option.

  11. says

    Here’s my list:
    Walk to work!
    Standing Yoga poses in the office like Warrior Pose (great for conversation too)
    Walk on my lunch hour
    Walk home
    Walk with my wife in the evening
    Walk in the woods
    Plant a tree or a shrub

    I know that’s mostly walk, walk, walk but it works (especially living in hilly Pittsburgh)! And you don’t need any special equipment. Just your feet and a good pair of shoes.

  12. says

    Hooray! My husband and I just toured a local gym and I’m still trying to fit the membership in the budget. I think following these suggestions and some of our own: family walks, throw the football together, eat dinner outside (lends to remaining outside), and not allow myself computer time until I have done something fun- a healthy happy family. And saved money!

  13. says

    I love exercise and I’m lucky to have time to devote to it. My main activities are spinning, Iyengar yoga and workouts with my trainer and my friend at a small private gym. Of course I also walk as much as I can, take stairs and jog or hike once in a while. The reason I like classes like spinning and yoga and sharing a trainer with my friend is the social aspect. I now have a social circle of people who like to work out. Also, I am accountable to my trainer, my friends and my classes. The fees for my trainer, a yearly yoga membership and yearly spin gym membership are not cheap, but they are partially subsidized by my employee benefits, and I prefer to spend my money on activities rather than things. For example, I don’t own a TV….

  14. says

    By far the BEST article I’ve ever read on fitness =)
    I was just writing an article about how I stay fit by literally playing outdoors… walking around the park, hiking… just keeping it simple.
    Then I ran across this article… so refreshing to read!

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  1. Yoga « minima/maxima | January 13, 2012

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