At first when I thought about writing a fitness column, I felt inadequate. I’m not a fitness guru, I’m not a personal trainer, hell, I don’t even have a six-pack (of abs, not beer). I gain weight, I lose weight, I go through periods where nothing fits, I go through periods where I feel strong and fit, I go through periods where I feel flabby and weak. In fact, I am currently the heaviest and slowest I’ve ever been.
But maybe that is precisely why I’m writing this column.
Because, at the end of the day, I am an ordinary girl who happens to really, genuinely enjoy exercise. I love running, mountain biking, boxing, surfing, rock climbing, step class, Zumba, lifting weights…anything fitness-related, really. I enjoy the thrill of fighting to hold a two-minute plank, pushing through a three-minute round of boxing, sprinting that last quarter mile. For me, exercise is my therapy, my Prozac, my way of staying sane.
And that is why I do it every single day. Not because I feel like I should but because I want to.
I have not always been crazy about exercise. There were many, many years where I had to force myself to go to the gym, where exercise became a chore and not something that I wanted to do. In fact, I remember times (a lot of times, actually) I would drive to the gym, circle the parking lot, and then drive away because I just didn’t have the energy or the desire to work out. I would try to exercise at home, but I was just not motivated to stick with it.
So what changed?
Lots of things, and it happened little-by-little. I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide I loved exercise, it took a couple of years, but here’s what was involved:
1. Friends and/or significant others: A great way to get to the gym is to get a friend to commit with you. My friend and I started meeting each other at the gym every morning at 6. In the beginning, I felt like cancelling every single day (who doesn’t want more sleep?), but I got my butt there because I knew she’d be waiting. It took a few weeks, but the habit was finally formed, and I stuck with it long after she bailed. The ironic thing is that after that, I became the friend people called when they wanted to form the gym habit.
2. Group exercise: Not only can group exercise classes be fun (think: Zumba, step, kickboxing, weightlifting), but there is something about the energy in a group X room that will force you to push yourself in a way you wouldn’t otherwise do. For a while I was a regular at certain classes, and once the instructors learned my name and specifically called me out during class, it went a long way in getting me to exert that little bit extra. Aside from allowing you to pull from group energy, group exercise is also a great way to learn skills you might not otherwise have.
3. Take the “should” out of it: Have you ever said to yourself, “Ugh, I should go work out?” If you have, you’re not exercising for the right reasons. Like anything in life, when it feels like a chore, or something you have to do, it is not enjoyable. First, I would say that whatever you’re doing, stop. You don’t enjoy it, or you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Here’s the thing: if you’re exercising simply to lose weight, you’re probably not going to enjoy it much AND you may not stick with it. There is so much more to losing weight than just exercise (more on that at a later time), and if you’re doing it to lose weight, well, when you don’t see results you’re not likely to stick with it. Instead, find something you do enjoy, like walking outside with your friends or going for a hike. Then, slowly start to change the language regarding exercise. Instead of saying, “I should go work out,” say, “I’m going to take care of my body now” or “I’m going to spend time with my friend now.” The language in your head will go a long way in changing your attitude about exercise.
4. Find something you enjoy: A few years ago, I took up mountain biking as a way to spend more time with my husband. Mountain biking turned out to be something I love, love, love. I’m out in nature, getting an adrenaline rush and, oh yeah, getting in hours of exercise in the process. The best part is, it doesn’t feel like work because it is so enjoyable. I’ve already mentioned that I enjoy step class and Zumba, but I also really love to go on long walks with friends. It’s a great way to get outside, catch up with your friends, and tone your legs.
5. No more excuses: I once had a college professor who said you make time for what’s important. That has stuck with me. I hear so many people say they just don’t have time for exercise, and I get it. We are all very, very busy with our lives. But if it is important to you, you make time no matter what. For me, that means waking up at 4 in the morning so that I can fit in everything I need to accomplish for the day.
At the end of the day, you have to find what works for you. You might be a morning person, you might not. You might enjoy going to the gym, or you might prefer exercising at home. Whatever your preference is, whatever works best for you, the point is to figure it out and keep at it. The habit will come, but it will not come overnight.
If you’re already in the habit of exercise, what is it you do to keep yourself going? If you’re trying to get in the habit, what are you doing to get into the habit?
Photo credit: Stock Exchange