Exercise, for me, is a pivotal part of a well-spent day.
I thought about it this past week as I journaled about my day and about how to make it truly well spent. The journaling was part of the minimalism challenge from earlier in the month, about which I'll report on in the next week or so. But for now, as I sat looking at my journal entry on a well-spent day, exercise was in the top 5 ingredients.
Well, for one, exercise helps bring happy sleep. When I exercise, I really do sleep better. When I flop around all day, even if I'm reading and doing mental work, it's much harder for me to wind down at night.
When I exercise I also feel more committed to healthier living in general. When I regularly exercise, I find myself eating better. I also find myself taking better care of myself, so I pay attention to things like skincare, getting enough water and slowing down.
Finally, exercise seems to add to my overall physical and mental health rather than simply sculpting muscles or shedding weight. I feel more flexible when I exercise. I have more stamina and get fewer colds. My little brain gets off the hamster wheel it so often gets stuck on and kind of relaxes in a soft bed of pencil shavings.
I mean....I could go on. I have exercised pretty regularly now for about 15 years, and the benefits far outweigh the hassle. Exercise, for me, is like a good night cream: I always keep coming back to it. I may try periods of opting out, slacking off or figuring my walk from the car to the grocery store frozen foods aisle is movement enough, but then I hit the skids and something seems off and I'm back to logging into my online workout or hitting up a dance class or hopping on the back of a horse....to get moving.
Over the years, I've figured out the Hands-Down Very Best Exercise One Can Possibly Do:
It is the exercise you want to do and will do consistently, without fuss or resistance or dread.
It's not CrossFit (per se) or running or weight lifting your toddlers. It doesn't have to make you drip with sweat. It doesn't have to involve rubber bands, water or box squats (are those even a thing?).
It isn't what your neighbor does or your sister does or what the guys at work are committing to on their lunch breaks, sticks of deodorant and sweatbands in their gym bags as they head out en masse.
Exercise is too important and too personal to be a one-size-fits-all proposition.
It's also important to remember there isn't one final, set-in-stone answer.
Over the years, I've done the Tracy Anderson Method, Barre 3, Zumba, Dance Jam, horseback riding, swimming, running, weight lifting, yoga and walking.
Out of all of those sports or forms of exercise, I come back to three: walking, yoga and Barre 3.
I might dabble in some sort of dance aerobics workout from time to time. I'm currently attending Jazzercise classes, which can only be described as a hoot (albeit one that makes me sweat). I love it.
I hated running so much that during the one 5k I managed to complete, one thought ran through my mind: I'm never doing this again.
Same for weight lifting. Same for studio yoga.
So, I've gotten my rhythm down, found what works for me and am open still to new ideas. But I have a plan that never fills me with dread and that I do consistently.
To that end, here are 5 Questions to consider if you're trying to build an exercise habit and struggling to figure it out, keep up with it or get excited about adding something to your day, even if it's something really good:
1. What do you want to get from exercise? Other than weight loss (which isn't really affected by exercise anyway), what do you think exercise might help improve? Mental health? Sleep? Boredom? Flexibility? Stress? Answering this question is the starting point to figuring out how to fit exercise into an already busy schedule.
2. What does your life look like right now? I hear people talk about getting back to sports they played in high school or college. I can't count the times I've heard: I played softball in high school....I should get back to that. Then, the years keep adding up, and no softball has been played because adult softball is actually kind of hard to put together on a Wednesday night at 7PM when the chores are done. Forget what you did ten years ago and think about your right-now life. What are your injuries now? What are your strengths? What is your right-now situation?
3. What can you commit? Maybe you've got time but not money. Maybe you've got money but not time. Maybe you can commit to the next six weeks but not the next six months. Figure out and be realistic about your commitment level before you begin.
4. Is it sustainable, your exercise of choice? I'm big on sustainability. If I can't do it in a year, I hesitate to start it now. I may choose to not do it in a year, but I'd like to at least give myself a fighting chance. Remember when I took on tennis but quit when the dreaded PA winter ended? Well, even though I moved on, tennis would have been sustainable for me. Walking is totally sustainable. Horses were less sustainable (due to expense, crazy trainers and availability), which is why I've moved on from horses and never put all my eggs in that one particular basket. Maybe you really love parasailing, but is that sustainable? I'm thinking for most of us....no. Sustainability is key in developing any long term habit, so give yourself a foundation to build from. If you're going to pursue an expensive, difficult or far-flung exercise as a hobby, also have an exercise you can do daily to keep fit that won't break the bank or require cross-country travel.
5. What is the barrier to entry? Everything (literally) has some barrier to entry, even if it's the will to start. Some things, however, have bigger barriers than others. Riding horses required $50/hr. for lessons, a willing trainer, a horse, the space to ride the horse and at least 2 hours of my time to drive there, tack up, ride and drive home. That's a sizable barrier to entry. Walking? That requires stepping outside (or in the grim winter, onto a treadmill). I need a pair of shoes and myself. That is a really low barrier to entry. If you're starting out on a new exercise program or just trying to find a way to get moving again after years of stillness, start with low-barrier-to-entry programs or options.
There are few things I'm adamant about. Mostly, I think we're all individual creatures who are blessed to have the time to determine our own path, to find out what works for us and to live our lives as authentically as possible.
But on the topic of exercise, I am fairly strident: we all benefit from regular movement. I don't know one single person who doesn't benefit from a long walk or regular stretching or playing soccer with the neighborhood kids. Not one.
If you've been meaning to get moving, planning to start a program or wanting to just add some exercise to your life, think about what you want to do, what you'd look forward to doing and how that plays out in your life right now.
I'm off to Jazzercise and then a day of errands, housekeeping, reading and hustling kids to appointments. Pork chops are on the menu for dinner, and I'm enjoying a new wine.