Fortuna Audaces Iuvat!

This Latin proverb translates to “fortune favors the bold.” What made me think of this is that, as I write these words, 26 years ago this month I met an amazing, brilliant and beautiful woman and boldly asked her to dinner. To my great fortune, she accepted.

Where was I?

Life can be a series of adventures or missed opportunities or both. I want to take you on an adventure, and you probably don’t want to miss it. However, like any trip worth taking it requires planning, preparation and a positive attitude. This trip can last the rest of your days.

What the hell am I talking about?

First off, what the hell I am talking about is not for everyone. This is for those with the burning desire to quest for a physical peak. If you’re not of this mind but still wish to improve your physical fitness, that’s cool, and this article is for you.

For those ready for the quest to be gung ho, know that many get bogged down in the finer details of fitness and miss the opportunity to fully embrace the bigger picture. Sometimes, they chase bullshittery by counting how many calories their underwear can burn, believing that eating Chef Boyardee can cause weight loss, jumpimg on the latest fitness bandwagon or spend too much time willing the numbers on the scale to move.

And they are missing the bigger picture. The bigger picture makes all of that micro stuff mentioned above largely irrelevant. If you are struggling with adhering to an exercise regimen and eating a healthy diet it’s time to clear your mind of the minutia and begin to imagine how things could be different. Imagine what it’s like bolt out of bed in the morning anxious to exercise. Think of how free you could be if you didn’t continuously crave high-calorie junk food. Consider the life you would lead if you were healthy, strong, energetic and thrilled with the way you look and feel.

The rest of your days can be truly awesome if you are ready to get gung ho.

I know some people consider me a bit of a nutbag when it comes to fitness. The grapevine feedback I’ve heard from some people in regards to talks I’ve presented use words like “hardcore” and “intense” and “really gung ho.” I’ll admit that I’m usually a bursting with energy and excited about healthy living kind of guy, but certainly was not always this way. I used to be an overweight couch potato who hated the idea of exercise and a fun afternoon for me was chugging beer and plowing through Doritos while watching a Star Trek marathon.

It took a gradual mindshift for me to go from doughnut-scarfing couch potato to diet-conscious workout warrior. I went from hating healthy living, to barely tolerating it, to thinking it did not completely suck, to actually not minding it and then to can’t imagine living any other way because it’s pretty damn awesome.

Hint: You don’t go from hate to freakin’ awesome overnight. The path is gradual and filled with baby steps and even road blocks. The thing about baby steps is that they still get you there faster than you might think. Think of how fast the last few years have flown by and what the next few years could hold in store for you.

Here are my suggestions for your path to gung ho:

Life without limitations

That header up there seems like part of a cheesy quote someone would post as part of a Facebook meme that contains a pretty picture, because we all have our limits. Lord knows gravity has limited some of my ambitions in the past. What I’m talking about are those self-imposed limitations that you can control. Things like time, effort and mindset.

In regards to mindset, when you see a super-fit, healthy and happy person and think that you could never be like that, ask yourself this question: Why the hell not?

Really. Why. The hell. NOT?

Twenty plus years ago I never dreamed I’d be the way I am today. I didn’t even like guys like the one I’ve become – the guys with muscles who could run a marathon and who thought that exercise was actually, like, important.

The first step is to accept that you can set ambitious yet still achievable goals for yourself, and then begin a process of achieving them. Don’t hamstring yourself before you even start by having a negative attitude. Positive thinking and a belief that you can actually do it is required.

Find an exercise that defines you

Or two or three.

I know some women who feel that yoga is part of who they are. And they are damn good at it. They study it. They think about it. They push themselves to get better and better. It has become part of their personality. Among their friends, their name almost becomes synonymous with it. Other women I know are hardcore runners, and I know a few who are running yogis.

This is because they’ve found their true exercise passion. It doesn’t have to be the best muscle-builder or calorie-burner, it just has to be that thing that you love and you endeavor to get better and better at. For me, those defining exercises are weightlifting, running and cycling. Everyone who knows me knows I love these things. They know it’s a part of who I am.

Experiment to find your exercise Zen, then make it a part of who you are.

Test your limits

Now I don’t want anyone to hurt themselves, which is why I’m a big fan of baby steps. When you give your body time to adapt, it does. I remember when I started running I had some OK cardiovascular capabilities because of weightlifting and was able to manage almost 5K my first time out, and I hurt from the eyebrows down for almost a week afterwards. It took a couple of aborted attempts to realize that I needed to start with just 1K and then add a quarter of a kilometre a week. Now I regularly run anywhere from 30 to 50K a week (depending on how much cycling I did).

Your brain doesn’t always know what your body’s limits are, so you just need to experiment and find out. Push out of that comfort zone, and then when things get comfortable, push again. Keep pushing until you’ve reached that state of awesomeness where others talk about how gung ho you are. Then fight a valiant delaying action against age. There will be plenty of time for rest when you’re dead.

Gradually start to look at food as fuel instead of a source of pleasure

Food is the toughest battle because giving up cookie dough Hagen Daazs is no easy feat. There is so much pleasure to be derived from eating highly palatable food; and you can’t out exercise a bad diet.

And this is why it’s important to learn to see yourself as a bit of a workout warrior, because not only do the “feel good” chemicals that you get from exercise help to replace your need for the “fix” you get from eating junk food (exercise, gambling, drugs, alcohol and junk food all affect the same neuro-chemical reward pathways in the brain), but it gives you the opportunity to start viewing food from the perspective of fuelling ever more exercise butt-kickery. When you’ve got a run, bike ride, hike, Pilates class, weightlifting session etc. planned, you need to fuel that with nature-made rocket fuel go juice. Not Twinkies.

To conclude, I’ll reiterate that this is a slow process, but you’ll barely notice the time because you’ll be having fun. It doesn’t matter how old you are because those days are behind you. You can only live in the future. Decide what you want that future to look like.

Be bold when facing this future, and fortune will favor you.

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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.