I rush to get to kick boxing class at 9:30. Heidi, the teacher, keeps our heart rate up for an hour and she fits in strength training exercises. On the days I can’t make it to class, I run or go to the gym. Saturdays, I meet a friend at the nearby lake and we run the 5 mile loop. Sunday I rest.
I’ve been a lover of physical activity my whole life. Likes most kids in the 70′s, I played hard after school and spent summers living at the pool. At age 9, I discovered softball and played year round until my sophomore year of high school when I switched to cheer. After high school I made a pact with a friend to go to the gym since we had no planned activities. After my first aerobics class I was hooked. Whether it’s running, classes or the gym, I’ve maintained regular exercise my entire adult life (except for a 6 months hiatus after Big A was born). But I know this is not the norm for everyone.
The wrong why
In my career, I’ve found that people often initiate exercise for health and weight reasons. But those reasons aren’t enough to carry them through life’s tough spots. And by that, I mean the typical life stressors — the kids get sick, work gets more demanding and to-do lists grow. It seems motivation can easily wane when the scale doesn’t move or the doctor’s scare tactics wear off.
If just knowing something is good for us was enough to make it a habit, everyone would be doing it. Instead, these good-for-us activities get in line with all the other things we need to do. It’s not that people don’t enjoy them, it’s that this important tidbit gets buried underneath the nagging sense that we should be doing it. Unfortunately, something that comes naturally to all human beings, such as moving our body, becomes a burden instead of a joy.
A different why
So why do some of us maintain regular exercise while others don’t? I think it has more to do with the reasons for doing it than discipline or willpower. While I value health, the real reason exercise is important to me is it makes everything in my life better. I am in a better mood, have more energy and patience with kids and get better sleep. And when I’m actually exercising I love how moving my body feels — it’s like I can feel the stress work off me. Every time I start working out obsessing about an unsolvable problem, it transforms into a doable challenge by the time I’m done. Exercise is the best sounding board I know — and it can keep a secret.
That doesn’t mean my mind doesn’t try to trick me into making this great love of mine a burden by reminding me of all I have to do (especially this time of year). That’s why I try my best to stay mindful and remind myself what I gain, today, from exercising. But some days I make the conscious decision to skip it when I know it will just be too hard to fit in or I feel my body needs a break.
You know it’s December when the gym loses its crowds and parking spaces open up at the nearby lake. As I go for a jog, I make eye contact with the other runners and we nod that knowing nod. We’re not there to drop pounds or because we have willpower of steel. We show up — even during the holidays — because this thing called exercise has become so tightly woven into our lives, we can’t imagine life without it.
Is exercise is important to you?