Commentary: Reaching your 2021 goals

In his commentary, St. Thomas University student Simon Wassef gives his thoughts on how to reach your fitness goals for 2021. (Submitted: Simon Wassef)

Welcome to my commentary, a place where I will discuss some tips to build a healthier and happier relationship between you, your exercise habits and your healthy eating goals this year. I am a firm believer that fitness is for everyone and gyms should be a welcoming place to learn for people of all skill sets and comfort levels.

Disclaimer: the purpose of this article is to share experiences and tips on a healthy lifestyle, not to act as a replacement for medical advice. Please contact for professional support.

I’ve competed in two Canadian national volleyball championships, several provincial soccer tournaments and ran a half-marathon. As I backed away from organized sporting events, I found there were several pieces of my mental and emotional health which I hadn’t been connecting with throughout my life. This was my first step in realizing the importance of establishing a positive relationship with exercise and healthy eating. It can be intimidating to take on such a goal, so I’ll break down some of these points into attainable goals for a student schedule and budget.

Mental Health

The mental and emotional benefits of exercise are extensive and have been validated extensively through research. In an era in which education, work and hobbies may be done electronically, it’s incredibly beneficial to practice building healthy connections between your mind and your body through movement. I use the word “practice” purposely, as there is no right or wrong way to pursue the cognitive benefits of exercise. There is value in everyone’s journey.

I have found since COVID-19 safety measures have been put in place, I have felt overly critical of myself and increasingly anxious. While it is sometimes tough to see in the moment, a brief stretch, walk outside or a strength workout in which I can channel my emotions into exercise often leave me feeling refreshed. Even if something feels awkward or uncomfortable to begin, the satisfaction of practicing a new skill (or refreshing an old passion) will help provide significant benefits to mental and emotional health.

Exercise Habits

There are countless ways in which fitness can work for you according to your wants, needs and comfort level. Gyms are a fantastic place to learn and develop new habits, although they can be intimidating for those who haven’t been before. The J.B. O’Keefe Fitness Centre at St. Thomas University is a welcoming and friendly place for anyone looking to experiment in a risk-free, friendly environment. Students can book time slots easily on the facility’s website.

When I was first interested in working out in a gym, I had very little knowledge. I was always scared to be the only person who didn’t know what they were doing and I thought I was. I soon realized everyone in the gym is constantly learning and helping each other out. There is a space for everyone at the gym.

When experimenting with new exercises, either with weights, workout machines or your own bodyweight, it’s important to listen to your body to see what makes you feel best and to limit injury. One tip for those who are not quite comfortable in the gym could be to practice exercises at home first, then bring them to the gym and slowly incorporate workout equipment as you go. Going outside our comfort zones can be intimidating, although overcoming mental obstacles in the pursuit of a happier and healthier life can help create a better relationship with yourself, others and your work. Doing 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day, a couple times a week at home could be a great way to start. Other ways of getting active could be a walk outside, yoga, or a fitness class on YouTube.

Eating Habits

Point of emphasis: healthy eating habits should not be unpleasant. The best way to form new habits is to transition slowly, try new things and ask lots of questions along the way. This will help find something that works best for you. While living through COVID-19 restrictions, healthy eating can certainly be a challenge, although a little planning and experimenting can go a long way.

As a lifelong vegetarian, I had plenty of time to experiment with different recipes. My best advice for anyone looking to change things up is to look at recipes online and pick out a few before doing your grocery shopping. I usually buy a lot of the same things every week to limit costs. Some of my favourite healthy, low-cost meals are:

Breakfast: breakfast wraps or sandwiches, oatmeal, breakfast beans and bananas.

Lunch and supper: chili, stir fry, wraps or burritos and pasta dishes with homemade sauce.

Where Can I Ask for Help?

Asking for help can be one of the best ways to learn more about exercise and healthy eating. Personally, I have found Supplement King here in Fredericton is an extremely welcoming business, who are always happy to answer any questions I might have, no matter how basic or specific my questions may be. Their support has helped me determine what workout equipment I should use, and which supplements could help me reach my goals. Their optimism and willingness to answer questions via Instagram helped me figure out what was best for me.

I wish you a happy and healthy journey in the months to come.