Tuesday, April 17, 2012

enjoying exercise productively

You know those people who seem like they were just born to exercise? The ones who always make it to the gym after a long day at work... The ones who can go out for an easy 8-mile run... The ones who do yoga before they've even had their coffee...

I'm not one of them. But somehow I still love exercise. And it's taken me awhile to get here.

Because let's face it: there are a lot of reasons to hate exercise. Starting with the fact that most people do it out of obligation. They do it because they know it's healthy. They do it to lose weight. They do it to not waste the money they already spent on a gym membership.

Don't get me wrong...those can all be great reasons to exercise. But not if they come from a feeling of obligation.

I've been to all of those places and back. And I think exercise and I finally have a pretty healthy relationship. It keeps me looking and feeling good, but I know when I need to take a break before exercise starts to irritate me a bit too much. Here are a few of the ways we make our relationship work.

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Make it a habit...

Exercise is no longer something I have to make time for. It is just as important as my semester classes or work meetings. Make your exercise part of your schedule, so it's not an afterthought. Write it in your planner. Do this for long enough, and you'll find that you're out the door to the gym without even thinking about it. Exercise is most effective when it becomes part of your lifestyle, but you have to figure out where it fits in. One of my favorite things about living in a city is that I get to exercise any time I want to leave the apartment...walking everywhere is my main exercise habit.

...But cut yourself some slack.

Just like we all occasionally need to play hooky from school or work (I won't tell), it's not the end of the world to skip a trip to the gym. I know I can't miss three weeks of class and still do well in school, and it's the same with exercise. I can't afford to make an excuse every time I feel a little tired or a little unmotivated. But if I never cut myself any slack, I end up overworked and overtired. Skipping a day of exercise is not a fitness failure...it's necessary for your physical and mental well-being.

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Do what you love...

My dad said this to me many times as I was growing up. He says that the only way people will really pursue lifelong fitness is if they like what they're doing. So if you don't want to run a marathon, don't. If you find yoga insanely boring, skip it. Exercise is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and trying to follow someone else's routine might just make you hate it.

For years, I used the elliptical machine almost every time I went to the gym. Something about them seemed magical to me. But when I used them, I was always counting the minutes, either because I was bored or tired. And after those many years, I finally realized that I pretty much hate elliptical machines. Now I primarily lift weights, because I love the variety I get out of a weight lifting routine, and how much stronger it makes me feel. I go for a light, long jog about once a week. And I stretch a lot, with some occasional yoga.  And I love a good hike and lots of walking. I love doing all of these things while I am doing them. That tells me I'm doing something right.

...But try new things.

That being said, I would never know how much I love a light, long jog if I hadn't forced myself to start running. I always insisted I wasn't designed to run, and had bad knees. Then just over a year ago, I decided I wanted to be a runner. I pushed myself harder than I ever had. And while I no longer care about being good at running like I did a year ago, I do have an appreciation for how great running feels when I'm going at my own pace.

If you never try, you'll never know.

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Do what feels good...

I once saw a girl at the gym vomit because she had been running too hard. I didn't get it. And I don't think I ever will. Yes, exercise sometimes hurts, but it should hurt in a good way. It should hurt in a way that reminds you you're making progress, not damaging your body. When you exercise, pay close attention to the feelings in your muscles, lungs, heart, and mind. Those are the places that should feel challenged, but happy.

....But keep setting goals.

Exercise that doesn't ever push you also doesn't really feel good...it feels boring. And it's probably not doing much for you. Whether it's getting stronger, going to the gym more often, or getting into that yoga pose (above photo is from my 'goals' board on pinterest), goals are what keep us going to the gym, and making that time useful.

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I should probably make it clear that I'm no fitness buff. I don't have washboard abs and I can't do the splits. But I do value health and exercise, so this advice comes from a place of dedication, not ability.

Any other inspiration you can share?

14 comments:

  1. I'm no fitness buff either but I do like to exercise to feel good. My inspiration is my boyfriend's parents. They're in their late 50s, early 60s and work out 6 days a week!

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    1. Wow, that's incredible! I've kept up that kind of schedule before, but it's hard work!! It's never lasted more than a month or so. =)

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    2. In defense of people in their late 50s/early 60s - that's really not very old. More people their age SHOULD be doing that.

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  2. Good post!It's very important for us to do some exercise!

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  3. Great post, Clair! Like you, I wasn't born an exercise lover, but do love it as long as I'm in a routine and doing things I love.

    ..which reminds me that I need to get into a better exercise routine now that finals are creeping up on me. Eek.

    xo,
    Hannah
    www.chillairandperfume.blogspot.com

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  4. Yay exercise! It took me a long time to actually enjoy it, but now I'm in a good habit of doing it 5-6 times a week!

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  5. I also decided a year ago that I wanted to be a runner. Now look at me - 5ks are no problem and I want to go farther. Here's a tip that has really helped me: whether you're talking to yourself or someone else, don't every say "I have to go to the gym today." If, instead, you say, "I want to go to the gym today" then it will become a self-affirming task and you will feel better about it.

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    1. So true...it's the little things. Thanks for the tip!

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  6. So in love with this post. It was inspiring and motivating! It certainly is true that if you do not love what your doing you won't stick with it, I have found myself with the problem numerous times!

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  7. I stopped by the Boston Marathon yesterday and saw so many people with washboard abs and sinewy bodies, it was insane, but not everyone looked like that, and it was nice to see that everyone could run it and finish. How cool. I use the elliptical too, and sometimes love the heck out of it, but sometimes getting through a workout is just a drag. I think we all go through hard exercise days, but I always say, something is better than nothing! I haven't gone to the gym in 4 days and now I'm sick, hahaha, is there a connection??

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  8. i agree with all of these. i love running, but it's not for everyone. and i always remind myself when i finish a run or leave the gym - "you feel better. you feel more energized. this was the right choice." it helps me remember that when i come home tired, getting my butt out there and exercising will make me feel better, not worse.

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  9. I'm definitely not an expert, but I think it's important to mix it up. Variety keeps you interested and cross-training is super important for your body.
    Great post.

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  10. Wow...I can't believe I wrote such a similiar post without having even seen yours. Work has been so busy that the internet isn't even considered. Yesterday I made time to run out for coffee and was sure to bring pen and paper with me so I could hand write a blog post. Now that mine is typed and up I finally found time to read my favorite bloggers - and what a coincidence! Great minds think a like. Cheers!

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  11. Amazing post Claire! I too found a love of running & yoga once I tried...if I never tried I would have never known and now they are my top two favorite exercises. Switching it up and listening to your body are my two main mantras. If I'm not feeling the gym, I don't force myself to go and have a "blah" workout. However, if I am feeling irritated or rundown, I go on a walk or a long job to gain energy and feel better over all. It's all about listening to what's inside :)

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Thanks for making me smile. =)