So last week (when I lamented how difficult it is for me to drink water), I mentioned that I’ve been doing pretty well when it comes to keep up with an exercise regime. Lest you think this is because I’m some sort of born athlete, let me be perfectly clear:
I hate exercising with just about every fibre of my being. In fact, as far as I could tell in the past, the only really great thing about exercise is that blissful moment when you realize that your workout is mercifully over.
I’ve had a very on-again-off-again relationship with exercise my entire adult life. In my 20’s, I exercised primarily because I wanted to be as thin as possible (and in those crazy days, I survived on two diet shakes, an apple, and about 2 hours of exercise each day. Thankfully, I’ve gotten over that). After I realized that I truly hated being hungry all the time (and I was hungry all. the. time), I stopped working out and started eating again. And because I was in my 20’s, I didn’t gain too much weight; however, I just became weak.
So in my 30’s, I decided that it was time to head back to the gym — this time, it was because I decided I wanted to be strong. As it happens, weightlifting is the type of exercise that least offends me, and so I began going religiously to the gym, 5 days a week, 5 a.m. every morning before work. And I’m not going to lie, I looked and felt great.
Then I got married, we went on our honeymoon, and the resort had a seafood grill right on the beach. I just lay there all day, as hotel staff brought me food and beverages. And that, my friends, was the beginning of the end of that bout of taking care of myself.
By the time I hit 40, I decided that I didn’t need to work out — after all, I eat right, and I’m relatively healthy! Why do something I don’t enjoy doing?
But then two things happened a few months ago that made me change my tune: first, it dawned on me that I’m turning 45 this year. And as much as I don’t want to believe it, there are parts of me that are sliding down the backs of my legs, my body is starting to feel stiffer when I wake up in the morning, and I don’t keep the weight off as easily as I used to. And secondly? My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer — a huge slap upside the head that good health shouldn’t be taken for granted. I finally realized that as the mother of a young daughter, it was time to be a little less cavalier about how I take care of myself. I need to be around for a long time.
And so, reluctantly, I joined a gym, and began weight training again. But I made a pact with myself: I didn’t have to go if I really didn’t want to go (I mean, really, really); similarly, if I had a fleeting thought that I should get moving, I had to make time to work out. Also, I decided that if I wasn’t in the mood to go to the gym, but instead wanted to go on a long photo walk, that would totally count. I also decided to refuse to get on a scale. History tells me that I tend to obsess about that number, so I decided that I wasn’t going to even think about it. Instead, I decided to measure progress by increases in strength, and changes in body shape. But not weight. Same with clothing size.
So far, so good, really. I have no idea if I’ve lost any weight or not (and I haven’t dropped any clothing sizes), but I’m noticing that I look better in photographs, so that’s a positive. And I’m definitely increasing the amounts of weight I’m lifting, so that’s good. And with those two characteristics, I’m defining my little experiment with exercise a success. And happily, after about 5 months of going to the gym, I’m still motivated to continue.
Then, this morning, I came across the following video on exercise (by the super dynamic Marie Forleo) that gave me another metric to measure my workouts, based on the concept that exercise is good for my mind even more than it’s good for my body. Here, take a look:
“Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning,” says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. “Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain.”
I love the idea of exercise being more for your brain and emotion than your body. It sort of takes all that weird baggage of trying to look like some warped societal ideal of beauty completely off the table, doesn’t it?
It also motivates me to work out more. After all, I’m planning on my brain lasting me a good long time.
(Incidentally, you should read the rest of this US News & World Report article, on the 5 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise — it’s a great read.)
What about you – how do you make sure you move? Have you noticed benefits other than the usual look-good-naked goals we usually have? I’d love to hear.