As a preparedness-minded person, it’s easy to get tunnel vision on bug-out bags, stored food, solar panels, and all the other supplies we stock to help us feel like we’re ready for anything that comes our way. It also takes a lot of time to learn all those techniques and survival tricks to make sure our knowledge is always growing.
But between gaining new bits of survival wisdom and planning all those kits, food pantries, and supplies, we often fall behind in terms of prepping what is actually our ultimate resource: our own bodies.
You don’t have to set the goal of becoming an Olympic-level athlete to be more physically prepared for disaster. The fact is, even small changes and habits can make us vastly more fit, flexible, and ready to handle everything from bug-out situations to floods.
For example, picture this: flash flooding strikes in your neighborhood. You manage to get your car parked on the street across from the house and think you can make it across the flooded street to your front door to get inside and onto the roof.
But you only make it to the sidewalk when a sudden surge rushes through, lifting you and sweeping you up off your feet. You manage to grab onto a street lamppost, and, fortunately, an emergency helicopter just happens to emerge into view through the storm clouds.
But it will take the rescue crew a few minutes to get the helicopter into hovering position and drop you a lifeline. The current is viciously strong, and you feel your strength quickly being sapped by the rushing floodwaters. This is one of those moments where the difference between being able to cling to that post for just twenty or thirty seconds longer can mean the difference between life and death.
Combining just small changes in diet, nutrition and lifestyle can add up to a huge difference, especially the older we get. We’ll start with those small, easy-to-start changes, since they’re the lowest-hanging fruit, and don’t require a drastic change in your routine.
Later on, we’ll get into some of the principles behind macronutrients and energy usage in a survival context. Remember…when it comes to diet and exercise, a little bit is vastly better than none at all, and baby steps can still help you reach your goal!
Small Changes = Big Difference
Forgive me if some of these seem obvious – in the interest of leaving no stone unturned, below is a quick list of some of the simplest small things you can start doing immediately to jump-start your path toward becoming more physically fit.
As you think about your own fitness goals, remember that variety is key. In order to keep becoming increasingly fit, you need to switch things up before your body gets used to a certain exercise.
As humans, we are fantastic at acclimating to new conditions. Therefore, the same exercise will become less effective over time, and you need to shock your body a bit with something new to re-start the mechanisms that increase strength, endurance, and other factors.
This is why weightlifters are always changing the types of lifts that they do. Adding variety could be as simple as changing your pace, but the less you allow your body to become accustomed to what you’re doing, the more your body will respond to exercise.
This brings us to our next point: if you aren’t doing all that much to keep fit, you can jump-start your progress with just some basic lifestyle changes. Once your body gets used to these, you can start working on more intense routines so that you keep improving.
Lifestyle Diet Tips
Plan snacks ahead of time, and make sure they’re healthy options. With just a little bit of planning ahead, you can prevent yourself from compulsively snacking on less healthy things like candy bars and chips, and snack more on healthier options like carrots and hummus, minimally-sweetened yogurt, and roasted nuts.
Eat something for breakfast every day, even if only a banana. This helps jump-start your metabolism and will have you feeling less hungry later, helping you avoid the temptation to gorge yourself so much at lunchtime.
Use smaller plates and bowls. By serving yourself on smaller dishes, you’re extremely likely to end up eating less and still feel just as satisfied. If you’re already lean and are trying to gain muscle this might not be helpful, but if you have extra pounds to shed, this one trick will start you off on the right foot.
Sugar is the enemy. Take note of any pastry, cupcake, or even muffin that you are used to eating, and replace it with an apple or banana instead. You’ll still get some sugar, but it will come with more vitamins and better carbs than anything bread-based along with fewer calories.
Increase the ratio of vegetables to other parts of the meal. They’ll make you feel full but won’t be as calorie-rich.
Drink more water. Your body and mind will work better, and you’ll be less hungry. Yes, you’ll go to the bathroom more, but that’s not a bad thing. Just be mindful of drinking too much before bed to avoid midnight bathroom runs.
Lifestyle Exercise Tips
Park far from the entrance when you go out, and always take the stairs instead of the elevator. As anyone with those little fitness tracking devices knows, those extra steps add up fast.
Set your alarm clock five minutes earlier to do loosen up with some morning calisthenics.
Waiting for water to boil? TV on a commercial break? On hold with the utility company? Instead of sitting around try doing some jumping jacks, crunches, a couple of push-ups (if you’re able), burpees, squats, or a set of lunges while you wait.
Have a dog you have to walk regularly? Turn your leisurely dog walks into speed-walks or jogs instead.
Once you start getting more serious about fitness, you can try incorporating an exercise routine. The key is to start slow, giving yourself lots of warm-up time and time for your body to get used to the harder work, but to also push yourself so that you can reap more of the benefits. The best routine is the one you can stick with. However, routines and activities that combine different types of exercise will result in a well-rounded type of physical fitness.
When people think of losing weight, they usually focus on cardio. However, the more muscle mass you have, the more fat your body can burn. That means that even if your goal is solely to lose fat, rather than to become more muscular, you should still be incorporating weight training or other muscle-building activity into your body prepping program.
One of the keys to any muscle-building routine is variety. If you’re lifting weights, after a while, your body will get used to a certain routine and will stop building as much muscle. You have to keep switching things up to re-shock your muscles into growing.
And while our capacity for building muscle mass naturally declines as we age, a good muscle to fat ratio is a boon to overall wellness at any age. As the old adage goes, “Use it or lose it!”
It’s also true for weight training and exercise in general, that a little bit is far better than none at all. And a little bit more is far better than just a little bit! The point is, small improvements make a big difference.
When you start lifting weights, start slow and take rest days. Lots of routines for different ages and body types are available online. Once you’re comfortable, start challenging yourself…gaining muscle is all about breaking those tissues down and then taking enough rest than they can build themselves back stronger.
This process, of course, is very dependent on getting proper nutrition while you train. More on this next.
If you aren’t getting proper nutrition into your body, all that stair climbing, biking, and weight lifting will ultimately amount to nothing. The exact nutrients and number of calories you need to recover after working out differ based on each individual, what kind of workouts you’re doing, and how hard you’re training.
However, I’ll outline some basic principles and tips that will help you get started as you learn your own specific needs:
Protein vs. Carbs vs. Fat
When it comes to post-exercise nutrition, a lot of newbies tend to over-emphasize protein and under-emphasize carbs, although everyone is different in terms of body type, metabolism, and how their bodies react to nutrients.
For now, understand that it’s carbs, not protein, that are the primary fuel for muscle-building. This is true for men and women alike, though men tend to need more protein and more calories in general than women do.
In addition to finding the right balance of protein and carbs, don’t neglect your vegetables! Without the right vitamins and minerals, nothing else will work as well. To make prep easier, frozen vegetables are a great option.
Now, onto fat. Without enough fat, you starve—bottom line. There’s even something called “rabbit starvation,” which refers to a survival scenario where all you can find to eat is ultra-lean meat, like that on a rabbit, which won’t provide enough fat for you to sustain your body. Fat is also necessary for vitamins to absorb.
General guidelines for these three nutrients differ based on your body type, and whether you’re trying to gain weight in muscle mass or lose weight by shedding fat, but here’s a good place to start: If you put on fat easily, you probably gain fat more easily from carbs, so try meals with around 40% protein, 30% carbs, and 30% fat.
If you’re naturally skinny and lean but have a hard time putting on muscle, try a higher proportion of carbs – say, 45-50% carbs, 20-25% protein, and 25-30% fat. These aren’t magic numbers, of course, but general guidelines to keep in mind for diet during your exercise routine.
Activities for Fitness
If you’re anything like me, you can’t stand in a gym or fitness center running on a machine or lifting weights in front of a crowd while CNN or The Real Housewives blast at top volume right above your head. For me, and I think this applies to most people, the best way to stay fit is to find things you genuinely enjoy doing that also happen to be beneficial for your body.
Thankfully, most prepping enthusiasts are already relatively outdoorsy, nature-loving people. You might already do some of these activities already. Explore some new ones, or consider upping the intensity of what you’re already doing. Below are just a few ideas.
Kayaking is great because you can go at your own pace; whether it’s a lazy glide across a tranquil lake or a high-speed paddle across whitewater rapids, this is a sport that is only as hard as you want it to be and will work your core and upper body.
Indoor climbing has exploded in popularity over the last fifteen years, and believe it or not, you don’t have to be young or fit to get started. Indoor climbing gyms have made it extremely safe and accessible to try, and a lack of upper body strength won’t stop you from conquering your first climbs.
Speaking from personal experience, I have seen overweight and out of shape people walk into a climbing gym for the first time ever, and six months later they have a six-pack and vascular, ripped arms. I’ve also seen first-timers just get into the sport in their 50’s, and keep climbing through their 60’s and beyond.
Hiking & Biking
Hiking is similar to kayaking in that you can make it as casual or hardcore as you want, and you’ll still reap benefits. Hike for a half an hour on flat ground or for 12 miles through the mountains; whatever your level, anyone who appreciates the great outdoors and lives within an hour or so of a decent trail could always set aside a few more Saturdays for beautiful hikes.
Same goes for biking – and while you’re at it, why not install a basket and start doing more of your shopping and commuting on two wheels? The more you use your body, the more ready it will be to sustain you if times get tough.
If you’re near a lake, river, ocean, or even a public swimming pool, swimming is a great way to get leaner and fit. It’s low impact so it’s easy on your joints and bones.
Keep in mind, though, that you should also do activities that include some degree of impact in addition to swimming if this becomes your primary form of exercise. Complementary activities could include anything from jumping jacks to speed walking.
Bones need activity to stay strong; that’s why bone mass degrades for astronauts who spend time in space. Without any impact, they start to weaken.
Okay, the SHTF. Now What?
If the SHTF and you haven’t already achieved a basic level of fitness, it’s going to become very difficult to become more fit after the fact. Proper nutrition will be harder to come by, and a far more strenuous survival lifestyle will simultaneously tax your body in all new ways. That’s why, as with all aspects of prepping, it’s important to start now.
If you do, you’ll be more ready if disaster strikes. And regardless of what the disaster is, a strenuous survival lifestyle will probably mean that you won’t have to worry about exercise anymore—the rigors of day-to-day survival will already be testing your limits. The question is, will you be fit enough to handle what comes?
Of course, a survival community is key for those who need help to get it. But you want to be as well-positioned as possible to be the one who gives the help – not the other way around!
And in the meantime, if a flash flood or other temporary disaster strikes, you can feel more confident that you’ll be able to hang on to that light post long enough to be rescued. That’s peace of mind that every prepper should strive for!
Author Bio: Eric is a nature-loving writer, experience junkie, and former Boy Scout who never forgot that time-honored Scout Motto: Be prepared. Aside from camping and survival, he loves writing about travel, history, and anything he finds strange and unique!
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