I have always struggled to develop a regular exercise practice. Here are some of the hurdles I faced, or created for myself.
#1 I hate running!
#2 I get bored with exercise easily – as a dancer, I need variety and ideally choreography to keep me engaged.
#3 My life is insanely busy – and I feel best if I get at least eight hours of sleep. How can I find the time to exercise if I am often busy from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.?
#4 I have generally lived in the suburbs, where getting to a gym involved a 15-30 minute commute. Not to mention that a gym membership isn’t always in the budget!
#5 I live in New Hampshire, where five or so months of the year it’s dark and freezing cold and often snowing, so I don’t want to go outside at all.
More recently, as my health has worsened, I added a few more to the list.
#6 I’m already dealing with chronic fatigue. How can I find the energy to exercise?
#7 I’m not sleeping well like I used to. Even with eight hours of sleep, I feel exhausted and would do better with ten. Wouldn’t exercise make the situation worse?
So, I had seven pretty solid reasons why I couldn’t make regular time for exercise. I would go through phases where I’d work out 2 or 3 times a week – sometimes I’d take an exercise class, or I’d do Zumba on our Playstation 3 (!), or I’d do some yoga on my own or take a hike or a walk. But despite my best efforts, I’d always get off the bandwagon. And part of the problem seemed to be that I’d get tired over the course of the day. Who wants to work out after dinner or after work when they’re exhausted? Not me!
After an underwhelming rheumatology appointment, I felt like I needed to take my health into my own hands. I’ve always known the science that says exercise gives you more energy, makes you happier, fights depression, etc. And despite all of the obstacles, I knew that if I didn’t get into an exercise routine, even if it was just a few minutes a day, I had no hope of being my healthiest self. I didn’t want to blame the way I was feeling on my own stubbornness.
So in late January, it began. I decided I’d wake up a little bit early the next morning and do some stretches and a little walking. As long as I did it for five minutes, I’d call it exercise, and enough. So I did it. Setting my alarm five minutes early wasn’t a big challenge, of course, and although it meant a little bit less sleep, I doubted it would make much difference, realistically.
As the week went on, I continued to get up a little bit earlier each day. I experimented with fifteen minutes. I did portions of free yoga or aerobics videos I found on Amazon Prime. They were pretty atrocious, but I could download them to my phone in advance (important because I had satellite internet with a data cap), have a variety of options and they gave me a goal. And if I wanted to stop early, no problem. On days off, I had more time, so I’d try an entire video, or at least most of one – if it was an hour-long video, I’d do 45 minutes or whatever suited me.
Before I knew it, I’d been at it for two weeks. And I liked it. I started finding better workout options. Depending on how early I could afford to get up in the morning (based on how early I went to sleep, what I had to do, etc.), I’d choose workouts to fit the time I had – generally not more than a half hour during the week. And sometimes, I’d have the urge to do a 45 minute or hour-long video, even mid-week. And you know what? Even if I was waking up at 4 a.m. to fit it in, and really not getting enough sleep, the exercise was energizing me. I wasn’t any more tired during the day – in fact, I was less tired. And I was making time for some kind of movement every day. Even if I wasn’t at home, or if I wasn’t feeling well, I did something.
I had always avoided a daily exercise habit. I didn’t think it was sustainable. But the reality is that exercising daily, at least for me, is more sustainable than anything else I’ve tried. Because if you take days off, your brain starts to want more time off. You did it yesterday – why not take off today too? But if you exercise daily, even if some of those days are just stretching or meditating or holding a few yoga poses, it becomes routine. It’s as natural as anything to wake at 4 or 5 or whatever you have to, to get it into your body.
After about a month, I started seeking other workout options. I was getting bored with my videos. So I signed up for Beachbody’s app, which lets me download up to seven videos a week. It’s expensive, but so far it’s worth it to get even more variety. I’ve upped my game and I’m lifting weights now too – and paying more for these workouts generally means a better workout in even less time, which I love. More than a half hour can really be a nuisance during the week, and I’ve been able to make that work. I’ve learned as I go that due to my new health issues, I have limits. I need to stick to low-impact exercise. Jumping might be fun but my knees will hate me if I do it regularly, so I need to avoid some of the crazy videos and modify if necessary.
After I hit the month mark, one of my friends challenged me to workout daily for three months. I thought that seemed reasonable. Amazingly, by the time I hit the three month mark, working out was so routine that I didn’t even notice I’d hit my goal!
Some of you might be wondering if I saw other benefits from working out. I definitely did. Although I’d already been cutting down on carbohydrates and making other gradual healthy diet changes, the introduction of exercise got me through a plateau, and I lost another ten pounds easily within a couple of months. As I mentioned, it helps me with my chronic fatigue when I exercise, and particularly now that I have cut out coffee, that’s especially important. And for the first time in a long time, after working out with weights regularly (TurboFire is my current favorite series), I found that my arms were really sculpted in a new way. I was used to sculpted legs from working out with dance videos, but being proud of my arms was really a treat! I’ve also enjoyed experimenting with different types of exercises and consistent weight use – but I think of it more as a hobby and an adventure than as something I have to do. I do feel best at this point if I can work out for at least thirty minutes, but as long as I move, it counts.
So if you’re wondering how to get a daily exercise habit, I’d really recommend taking away fancy goals. Don’t make yourself do it for a specific length of time – 5 minutes is a great minimum if you need it. And keep “exercise” loose. You can stretch. You can even meditate. You can walk in circles or walk around your yard. But commit to moving, ever day. And if you’re like me, I highly suggest doing it first thing in the morning. Before you eat breakfast or have your coffee. It’s great motivation and your tired brain will get into the habit easily.
Do you have an exercise routine? What does or doesn’t work for you?
p.s. Thanks to Theatre KAPOW for the photo!