It may seem odd (I daresay, even a little sadistic) to write to you about exercise in a post featuring a gigantic dish of Homemade Peach Cobbler. Well, my husband would tell you that I'm nothing if not odd (and a little sadistic.)
Actually, exercise and the occasional treat pair perfectly in my mind. I don't think I'd do the former without the latter. Indeed, there was a significant portion of my life where I didn't do any exercise regardless of what I ate. None. My natural state is about as sedentary as a dead slug.
Currently, though, I'm proud to say that I've been exercising regularly for about a year and a half. I never thought I'd be able to say that! I'm excited to share some tips with you about getting active. I don't mean fancy fitnessy stuff or advice for dedicated athletes -- I mean advice for my fellow dead slugs out there. If you're reading, don't have a regular exercise routine, and maybe can't imagine having a regular exercise routine, this post is for you.
Here's what helped me:
1. Find the activity you love. I used to think that learning to exercise was a matter of repeatedly doing things you hated until you didn't hate them anymore. The problem was that it never happened like that for me. Either I did stick with an activity for a long time and still hated it (elliptical machine) or I couldn't stand to stick with it at all (running).
Finally, I mustered the courage to try a group aerobics class. For some reason, group classes didn't seem intolerable for me like the treadmill did. It was an epiphany: I didn't have to keep doing things I hated. I could find something I loved. Since then, I've found that I love Zumba, kickboxing, step class, yoga, kayaking, and swimming. Keep trying different workouts until you find one (or several) that makes you happy.
2. Try group classes. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking some variation of: "But I'm too fat / too old / too slow / too out of shape." You're imagining that you won't be able to keep up. That you'll stand out. That everyone will be looking at you. You might be thinking of your social anxiety. You might be thinking of how heavy your breathing gets. But let me tell you: you've got group exercise classes all wrong! I know, because I did, too.
I'm pretending like this is a photo of me in my exercise gear, but really this is me in my Halloween costume last year.
I was a dancer from the Gangnam Style video. Ahem.
Even for an introverted loner like me, group exercise classes are usually extremely welcoming. I've been to lots of them, and I've noticed that there are always young people, fat people, old people, skinny people, slow people, and fast people. There are dancers. There are uncoordinated people. There are people with bad knees who modify the exercises. Nobody gives anyone else a second glance. Half of us are going the wrong direction at any given time, so nobody feels weird when they mess up the exercise moves. Our teachers encourage us, "Just keep moving and have fun!" and we do! We shimmy, shake, salsa, meringue, and laugh. We laugh at ourselves; we laugh with each other.
In addition to being surprisingly comfortable, group exercise classes provide light, positive peer pressure. There's an undercurrent of inspiration when you're with so many other people striving for the same physical goal. You're all quietly congratulating each other on getting to the gym and working hard. When you get tired, you don't want to quit because others around you are still striving. I've found it tremendously motivating in a way working out in my living room could never be.
3. Find the exercise that feels like a treat. When I'm doing something luxurious for myself, like getting a manicure, I really enjoy it. Exercise can be like that, but you have to figure out how. For me, exercise feels indulgent when I make time for it in the morning and then shower at the gym afterwards. This way I have my whole day ahead of me and I've set myself up to feel great. I also love going out for a healthy lunch Saturday after working hard in the gym, because I feel like I'm doing two great things for my body. For some of my friends, exercise feels indulgent when they leave their kids with a family member and make their workouts time to focus on themselves.
4. Find the exercise that gives you a sense of mastery. Find the exercise that, after you do it, makes you feel powerful and accomplished. For me, yoga is lovely for peace and mindfulness, but I don't feel a sense of mastery after it like some people do. After a difficult cycle class, though, I feel like I just conquered the world. When you're trying out different activities, evaluate how you feel afterwards. What gives you the "happy rush"?
5. Switch things up. I get bored doing the same exercise routine over and over. It makes things more exciting if I change up what classes I go to and what "extras" I do in the gym. I also vary the days and times that I workout. Look around for dance studios or gyms that offer a cheap membership and lots of variety. Also look for local lakes where you can rent canoes, swimming pools, rock climbing centers, hiking trails. Compile a long list of new activities to try so that you're never bored.
Quick tip: Many gyms offer trial memberships so you can try out their classes and facilities. I took advantage of a lot of these when looking for a gym to join, and it helped me find the perfect one.
6. Just get yourself there. The other tips all sound great, but I've fallen back on this one more times than I can count. Even though I love the activities I've found (swimming, kayaking, Zumba, etc.) once I get there, making myself get ready and go to the gym is often a huge mental hurdle. So I've developed the mantra: "Just get yourself there." I don't worry about whether I have enough energy for class. I don't think about how much I have to do at home. I don't agonize over whether I "feel like it." Instead, I tell myself, "Of course you don't feel like it right now. But just get yourself there." Once I'm in the gym with my gym clothes on, I know I'm going to be productive. I know I'll feel even more accomplished having overcome my hurdle. So I turn other thoughts off and "just get myself there."
I hope these tips help someone out there. I know they're not magic wands. There are those of you who can't afford a gym membership for $15 a month, who can't find childcare, who don't have transportation, who have different physical abilities. But for those of you in the same place I was in over a year ago, with no exercise plan and no concept of how to begin, maybe this will inspire you a bit!
And more good news: you don't have to stop eating peach cobbler. I still enjoy my treats each weekend. In fact, I think I enjoy them more knowing that I've worked hard to keep my body healthy overall.
What about you? What activities do you love? What exercise tips do you have?
One year ago: German Chocolate Cheesecake
Two years ago: Gooey Cookies & Cream Bars
Three years ago: Bittersweet Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies
Four years ago: Peach Crisp Pie