Rylan, 37, from London, shares with Men’s Health how learning to love exercise has helped him lose weight, get fit, and become physically and mentally healthier.

I had been overweight for a long time, at least 10 years, and at my heaviest I weighed around 245 pounds. My busy lifestyle was a huge factor, lots of travel and entertaining, combined with physical inactivity. I hated exercise. I also had no real idea about what I was putting into my body; two servings was standard for me. This led to a number of health problems; I developed chronic gout, which can be extremely painful, had regular back pain, and my blood pressure was far too high. I was constantly short of breath, with a high resting heart rate.

My doctor, family and friends were all concerned, and I knew I had to do something.

I started walking to work every day, and tried out a few short workouts. I hated it at first; I was so unfit, and it made me feel horrible; I associated it with discomfort, pain, and feelings of shame from when I was younger. But I kept going, trying not to think about big goals and just staying in the moment, ignoring my negative thoughts. I celebrated starting and finishing any activity, and it wasn’t long before I started to feel real pleasure from the endorphins. At some point, I found I actually wanted to do more exercise.

I began tracking everything with my smartwatch: all of my workouts, and how many calories I was consuming and burning each day. When we went into lockdown in London, monitoring my daily calories and macronutrients also helped me to feel like I was in control while everything else around me felt so uncertain.

When I started setting myself goals, I made sure to keep things realistic and achievable, such as eating at a calorific deficit, and seeing if I could get my weight under 220 pounds. One of the way I kept myself motivated was to find ways to turn exercise into something I could enjoy; dance cardio classes became an important part of my weekly routine, because it was fun and social. Exercising with others in a class also made me realize that I wasn’t in this alone—having other people to answer your questions and lend support can make such a huge difference.

Over the course of 10 months, I ended up losing 77 pounds. I have managed to maintain my weight at 160 pounds, and now my focus is on growing muscle. I don’t want to get too big, but I do want to build strength. However, with strength training only, I definitely started to see a reduction in my cardiovascular fitness levels, and so I’m still mixing it up with cardio. I go to the gym 4 times a week for weights, and then also do 2 10k runs a week, or a couple of HIIT or dance cardio workouts. I also try and hit 10,ooo steps every day, and do yoga at least once a week.

My other goals are to lose the last bit of fat around my belly—which I’m finding difficult even with a body fat percentage of 12%—and to start participating in some races. I actually have my first 10k race this weekend.

If you’re at the start of your own fitness journey, my advice to you is just start doing something. Anything! Even walking. But also start tracking and monitoring with an Apple Watch or something like that (ideally a smart watch that you use for other things so you wear it all the time). Then begin setting yourself smaller achievable goals, and celebrate those wins when you hit them: either weight goals, running distance/pace, or just getting up and doing some exercise. You should find a point where you will enjoy the exercise and the process, and then you’ll be really hit your stride. That mindset shift was really important for me, and has helped me make this a long term journey. Another big thing is to mix up your exercise. Keep it interesting, try different things, and you’ll soon find the things you enjoy most and are the most effective for you.

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