The most effective exercise
… is the one that you’ll actually do.
There are all kinds of advice on how to get fit, be it specific techniques, time-management tips, or threats of how you’ll die in misery at an early age if you don’t get your duff off the couch. But all the gym memberships, classes, expensive workout clothes, or cool toys (ahem, yoga/Pilates/tai chi videos) won’t do anything unless you actually use them.
So if you want to start training your body for something other than sloth, the one most important thing to consider is ‘will I really do this?’
I have spent most of my life as a chair-dweller. My pastimes include reading, piano and needlework, so I didn’t accidentally stumble across exercise during the course of my daily life. The first time I ever had to stand up for an extended period was when I got my first job at eighteen. By the way, I highly recommend exercise that you can get as a side benefit of doing other productive things. At my first three jobs, we weren’t allowed to sit down, and that definitely contributed to what level of fitness I had at the time.
When I joined the military, I got in really good shape for the first time in my life. Obviously there was boot camp, where we were physically active at least six days a week, and where the food was good enough that I’d eat it but not so great that I’d overeat. And then when I got to my initial training school, I took part in semi-weekly group physical training, and I’d also run a lot as a way to work out the stress of the school.
I definitely enjoyed being in shape. I liked that I was the smallest clothing size I’d ever been, but the best part was having a body that was capable of handling whatever surprises were thrown at it. When I travelled overseas, I was able to hike long distances at a quick pace, not because I had trained to do that specifically, but because I was generally in good condition.
Two things conspired to sabotage my physical fitness: upheaval in my personal and work life, and injuries related to training too much, too fast, with poor technique. Shin splints are the pits, I’ll tell you that. Those things don’t EVER heal.
Due to the combination of lack of motivation and pain in several areas of my body, I gradually returned to a sedentary existence, and went back up to my ‘normal’ weight of many pounds over the recommended limit. Then I had a baby, which, in addition to the physical issues, adds a whole new challenge in scheduling exercise. I tried using a jogging stroller, but ended up hating having to strap my baby into a confined position so that I could get exercise. Plus, since my muscles were still weak and I was trying to fix my technique, pushing the thing often led to more old-injury pain.
As hard as it is to get in shape, it’s harder to get BACK in shape once you have been and lost it. My brain keeps remembering all those 10-minute miles I used to do as a warmup to group PT, and when my legs can barely carry me along for a few yards, it gets very discouraged. I kept telling myself, ‘You know you can run; you used to do it all the time! Just adjust your technique, and you’ll be fine!’ But when it came down to it, on the rare occasions that I actually had everything else done and my husband was available to watch the baby, the last thing I felt like doing was putting on all my running gear and suffering for an hour.
And that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? When exercise is viewed as nothing more that ‘suffering’ that we do just because we’re told to, no wonder it’s hard to get up and go. That is where finding out what you really LIKE to do comes in.
Back when I was in good shape and was master of my own time, I would often take long, LONG walks in the late evenings and into the night. I loved heading out around seven p.m. and walking through the surrounding towns and along the beach paths, listening to the waves and enjoying the solitude. I was getting exercise, but that wasn’t why I took those walks. I walked because I enjoyed being outside, in the dark, with the rhythm of my own two feet transporting me for miles. It felt like I could do anything, if all I had was my feet. It was an amazingly empowering feeling. And that’s how I finally started exercising again.
I realized while taking the trash out at night how much I missed being outside, after dark, by myself. So I started putting on my exercise shoes when I took out the trash, and now I go straight from the dumpster to the sidewalk, and just walk through my neighborhood for thirty minutes. Walking is great exercise, especially if you throw in some hills, and it’s a great way to start re-building a body that has overuse injuries. And I don’t have to get dressed up in full running kit, either; I just grab a jacket and wear whatever jeans and t-shirt I have on during the day.
Eventually I hope I can improve my physical condition enough that I can start throwing in some runs. But it will have to be when running is enjoyable, not misery that I’m doing because I feel like I should. Until then, I will continue enjoying my nocturnal walks, realizing that the best exercise will end up doing both my body and my mind good.