I think of our bodies as our vehicles that allow us to travel through life. If you want your vehicle to perform, you must keep it fueled and give it the necessary maintenance. The same is true with our bodies. We must keep our bodies fueled with proper nutrition and maintained by steady exercise. Otherwise, we cannot expect our bodies to perform the way we want them to when called upon.
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I came from a family that did not exercise or play sports. I never saw my parents exercise, except after my father got older and he was diagnosed with high-blood pressure. He would pace in the hallway in our house for a bit of exercise.
When I met my husband, Carlos, when I was 18, I could not even do a sit-up or a push-up. When it was my turn to climb the rope in gym class, if the teacher was not paying close attention, I would skip my turn and sneak to the end of the line.
Carlos was an outdoorsman accustomed to riding a horse on a daily basis. He introduced me to a variety of sports, including camping, horseback riding, windsurfing and skiing.
I began a permanent exercise program when I was 32, after our son died. I participated in aerobics and horseback riding. Shortly after making this commitment to exercise, I fractured my spine when I was thrown from my horse while riding, so I traded horseback riding for windsurfing for a couple years while we lived in Singapore. I windsurfed daily, and it left my midsection toned.
My commitment to exercise increased after I became involved in competitive shooting in my late 40s. When I first got into the shooting sport, I often attended classes in my area that were taught by top shooters. I studied the pro shooters, taking note of how they looked, how they conducted themselves and noting their equipment. One of the common characteristics I noticed was that they were all fit. That indicated to me that you need to be in good physical condition to be effective in this sport.
You must be physically fit to navigate the harsh journey of a match. Additionally, being in good physical shape will improve your mental sharpness and stamina, allowing you to better endure the emotional stress of matches.
Participating in a Jazzercise class has been a staple of my exercise regimen throughout my years in competitive shooting. It is a dance exercise class that incorporates movements that keep my body flexible and fluid. Light weights are used in the class, but most of the exercise is cardio-based. I am also in a body sculpting class that exercises muscles on every part of my body. The class helps you get stronger and more toned. The amount of weight you incorporate in the body sculpting class is up to each individual.
Additionally, I have worked with trainers at different points of my career. I used a trainer for 1½ years, from 1995 to 1996, while I was competing at IPSC Nationals. IPSC is especially strenuous and requires physical agility and stamina. The trainer helped me with weight training and cardio work. In those days, I also skied regularly throughout the winter. I am now working with a trainer again to help keep me in top form and combat the effects of aging.
A trainer will teach you a proper training regimen and show you the right technique for different exercises. Even if you decide you do not want to continue using the trainer long-term, you will have learned the basics to conduct the workout yourself.
It is important with any exercise program to give your body time to recover. I aim to exercise four days a week and allow my body to recover on the other three days. You must determine your body’s tolerance, and do not push your body beyond its capacity. Overworking your body and not giving it time to recover from workouts can cause injury, doing more harm than good.
Also, you will want to have balance in your exercise program. Do not only exercise the muscles in one area of your body. After you train one muscle, train its counterpart next. A trainer can teach you how to achieve this balanced approach.
I do not believe there is one specific diet everyone should follow. Each individual’s dietary needs are different.
My husband attended college at Stanford during the time that Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jim Plunkett was there. Carlos recalls seeing Plunkett in the cafeteria at breakfast, his plate loaded with a couple steaks, eggs and toast. Plunkett went on to have a great NFL career and was a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Meanwhile, the top quarterback of this generation, Tom Brady, sticks to a diet that is 80 percent vegetable-based, according to a recent story in the “The Boston Globe.”
The key is finding what works well for your body and adhering to that diet.
Regardless of your dietary needs, it is important to avoid processed food as much as possible. Limit your intake of frozen foods, canned goods and fast food. Life is hectic. Sometimes we must consume such food for convenience, but the less we consume of processed food, the better. Your body prefers whole foods. I try to stick to a diet comprised of fresh produce, along with a balance of chicken, beef and fish.
I must admit I have a sweet tooth and experience sugar cravings. Sometimes I give in to these cravings – try as we might, we cannot always maintain a perfect diet – but often when I get a sugar craving, I fill it by eating a piece of fruit, such as a mango, apple, orange or pineapple.
Keeping fresh fruit in your house is a good idea, because you will have a healthier option to reach for when a sugar craving strikes.
As the saying goes, you are what you eat, so if you eat junk, your body will not perform in the manner you need it to during a grueling competition.
Our bodies are constantly aging. Certainly when you reach my age, the challenges are plenty, but even when you reach 30, your body will face more challenges than when you were 20. Proper diet and exercise can help decrease the effects of aging.
Developing a healthy routine is key. Our bodies become accustomed and accepting to routine. If your diet is poor and imbalanced, try to whip your diet into proper form for 6 months. At that point, you will be used to your new diet, so it will be much easier to adhere to it. The same is true for exercise. It might be hard to get started, but if you can develop a routine, after a few months, you will view it as a part of life.
Although our bodies are our vehicles for life, we do not get to trade in these vehicles for new ones if they break down. However, by showing dedication to exercise and a smart diet, you can keep your body running strong for a long time.
Vera Koo is a first-generation Chinese American woman. She’s a wife and mother, author, entrepreneur and retired competition shooter. Along with Vera’s fantastic memoir and life story, "The Most Unlikely Champion," she writes her column, Vera Koo, at "Women’s Outdoor News." View all posts by Vera Koo
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