Add to your list of “they never taught me that in law school” the importance of staying physically fit. For many, it’s a slow slide toward unwanted pounds, high blood pressure, and achy backs. The long hours and stress of practice are not kind to one’s body. But what to do about it?

Setting Goals

One lawyer, Jasmine Jonell, decided she wanted to lose weight and get into shape. She describes herself as not a very active person. She’s a homebody who would rather be reading a book. Then she set the audacious goal of working out 300 of 365 days. It wasn’t easy, but she made her goal and reaped some rewards gaining strength and losing weight.

But what’s next? If you’re a goal-driven person, always be working toward a goal. Jasmine then decided to run a marathon. When I first spoke with her about running, she saw herself sprinting short distances on the treadmill. A 5k seemed out of reach. Now, she’s set her sights on a marathon.

Jasmine trained and trained and on July 4, 2011, she completed a half marathon. She’s still looking to complete a marathon in the Winter or Spring.

What advice does Ms. Jonell have for people trying to get into shape?

  1. Set a goal. It’s easier to get motivated when you know what you expect of yourself.
  2. Keep track of how you are doing. She kept a training journal in the form of a blog at where she could celebrate victories, vent, get encouragement and advice.
  3. Don’t think you are too heavy or not athletic enough to exercise. “I was worried about my balance and afraid I would fall off the treadmill.”
  4. Ask for help and advice. She constantly receives advice and encouragement through her blog and Facebook account.

I would add that you should go see a doctor first. You may have hidden challenges that a physical exam may find that you were unaware of. I highly recommend seeing a sports-focused doctor. I was told years ago by a doctor to avoid running due to back pain. Now that I’m running again, my back feels better than it has in years. Now I’m clear about my goals with my medical providers to help them give the most relevant advice.

Working in working out

Not ready for an all out workout program? Triathlon Coach Richard Van Sickle, himself a former practicing attorney, offers this advice:

I hear a lot of excuses for not exercising, but the most common excuse has to be a lack of time. People seem to think they need 15 hours a week to get in shape, but that’s just not true. Thirty minutes a day of physical activity can make a huge impact. Starting out, it doesn’t even have to be 30 consecutive minutes. 10 minutes, 3x a day can work.

Small changes, repeated frequently can improve our health. Things we’ve all heard before like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, don’t take the closest parking spot, ride your bike to return that DVD, walk. If you’re already walking try to pick up the pace for 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes – you don’t have to run just walk quickly.

Hiring a personal trainer or coach can help a lot of people achieve their fitness goals. The coach can help both in establishing a sound fitness plan, but also having someone looking over your shoulder, holding you accountable, increases the likelihood that you will get the workouts done.

Challenge yourself. Sign up for a 5k run/walk. If that’s not a challenge increase it to a 10k or signup for a triathlon. If you can swim, ride a bike and walk 45 minutes you can become a triathlete.

Don’t do too fast too soon, however

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some of us jump in with both feet. We go from the couch, to the gym, to the physical therapist. This is particularly true for those of us who used to be active, haven’t been active lately and want to get back in shape. We start off doing too much too fast and end up getting hurt. Most of us aren’t 23 years old anymore and we need to ease our bodies into increased physical activity.

We work for years to develop our skills, referral sources, systems, and client relationships. All that work can be undone by preventable health problems. Our clients depend on us to be able to follow through on what they need done. Physical fitness supports us being better lawyers. Now get moving!

Shaun Jamison is a Minneapolis lawyer, law professor, and triathlete. Shaun is presently serving at the chair of the Practice Management & Marketing Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lostmymind/93418453/)