Every summer for the last few years, friends from Brooklyn come North to our house in Vermont for their own personal Fresh Air Fund adventure. The kids jump around in the river, stalk green frogs that hang out in the little pond with nets, rustle up sleeping toads under logs, chase small dace, minnows and tadpoles, skip rocks…
And get really, really wet…
My lab Balsam loves this, usually we are talking so much we don’t notice his relentless nudging for us to throw sticks in the river for him to retrieve.
I was in the midst of a mindless stick-throwing session when my friend remarked “Now I know how you get such strong arms, throwing that thing all day for Balsam!”
If only that were the case! I didn’t correct her though. Maybe strong arms magically form because I’m an active gal living life in the country, chasing after my kid and dog…I wish, but nah, not so.
These arms? They are deliberate.
I just never talk about strength-building efforts because I have learned fitness is a subject that evokes a variety of emotions, not always positive ones. For instance my mother, who by the way, happens to be pro-active with her fitness, told me last summer “talking to you about fitness makes me even less motivated to want to do it!” Ok then! And I have repeatedly caught my husband completely tuned out, silent and with a blank stare, as I’m going on and on about it, although he is a little more tolerant now.
Why do people get defensive about exercise, or not want to think about it?
My theory is that everyone knows they need to exercise. We have all seen the news, read the reports. We have heard exercise is important for our mental and physical health now, and as we age. Exercise increases our energy levels. Helps us with balance and flexibility. It enables us to be more active, and helps us focus. The old saying “use it or lose it” comes to mind.
There is a lot of guilt and regret that personal fitness and health is an afterthought on that very long list of priorities, and usually gets forgotten. But this is one of those subjects we can only dodge for a little while, eventually it needs to be confronted. Check out this note my husband received at the bottom of his wellness plan from his doctor:
Participate in 30-45 minutes of exercise per day, daily is best. And we all need to monitor our diet and keep exercising for the rest of our lives to stay healthy and maintain our weight.
Funny how they slip in these monumental, life-altering details way at the bottom, in the fine print.
Many people reviewing the recommendation with their doctor are going to nod in agreement, yes, this should be done, but may in reality be thinking:
1) How in the world am I going to fit this into my schedule? And…
2) Where do I even start? And…
3) I don’t like to exercise! And…
4) I’m sure I get enough just walking around with my kids. I’ll be fine. And…
5) Adjust and monitor caloric intake? what the…? how? I love food! And…
6) I’ll just lose a few pounds and then I’ll be done.
In my first few posts, I mentioned struggling with this dilemma. I thought I was active. I was outside all day. I was chasing after my son. I was taking walks with my dog. Occasional hikes. At my house I used an elliptical a few times a week. That should be enough, right?
Well, I found out, not really.
The part that wasn’t right? I was over-estimating the value of my activity. When I take Balsam for a walk, who is getting exercise? He is! I’m just standing there half the time waiting for him to fetch something, and my heart barely has time to elevate. And same with “hikes” with my son, who stops every five seconds to check out a bug or caterpillar. I wasn’t getting much activity at all. And although I ate well, as in “all natural” and “unprocessed”, I had no idea how much I should have been eating. Add to that a slowing metabolism…
No wonder I was always irked about never getting back to the pre-pregnancy size. And definitely not back to the pre-pregnancy fitness level. I found myself limiting activity because I wasn’t confident enough in my fitness level to keep up. When we went for hikes, I made sure they were easy “rambles” because I was huffing and puffing on the steeper hills. Some hikes I opted out of altogether, like one of our local favorites, Haystack Mountain. One spring I actually hired someone to weed my garden because my back had been bothering me.
Now what is wrong with this picture? I’m still young, I just didn’t know what to do to make myself stronger.
The right time to start making changes is a very personal decision, and I had no idea how to begin. But once I made the choice, I became a student for life. Remember the fine print above? The need to stay fit doesn’t stop, it’s not a one-time deal. And for most of us, it doesn’t just happen by itself; it requires a little planning.
If you are curious about developing a plan, I’ll clue you in to some of my lessons-learned:
- Think about food and exercise as currency: When I was a kid, my mother was always on Weight Watchers, and although I never actually signed up or went to meetings, I used to go through the motions with her, and write down what I ate each day in a notebook. I remember being so shocked and much more aware of what I was eating once I wrote it down. Today? There are more powerful tools on the web and in the app stores for every phone, just type in “calorie counter” on your search engine or from your mobile app store, and start tracking what you eat and I promise this will be an eye-opening experience. You don’t necessarily have to do this forever, but when you really see how much you are eating, compared to what a person of your size should be eating, and the role activity level plays in this calculation, I promise you will make changes.
Exercise should be deliberate, plan for it, learn what is most effective. Think about your week. What days are the busiest? Where do you have a few extra minutes? Do you have to travel on certain days? Do you wake up early and surf the web for an hour? Make it only 40 minutes and take 20 for a few jumping jacks and running in place, or jump rope or an exercise video. Pencil in the times you think will work. Maybe during the workday, you can change that lunch date (or instead of sitting at your desk) to a “walk” date. Print out a monthly or weekly exercise calendar and write down what you are going to do, and when, and check it off as you achieve each goal. I have to tell you, this has been the most important low-tech tool for me. If I have something on the calendar? I will do it. No questions asked.
- Finding something you like takes time, add some variety: When I first started a fitness plan, I didn’t know what to do at all. I had the elliptical in the house, so just used that every day because it was easy. This is fine at first, but after awhile it gets boring, and workouts become less effective. I tried jump roping. I tried running and jogging; not my favorite. I tried yoga and it took awhile but I learned to love it. I bought an exercise ball. Certainly at the right time of year, I love to hike, and take walks and try to plan for those. For formal exercise currently I’m doing more weight lifting along with the other cardiovascular workouts, and this works well for me. I’m an at-home exerciser, because I can make this work better in a shorter amount of time, and it’s less expensive, but if you like going to a gym or classes or getting a trainer, that’s great too. My husband? He’s the opposite. He’d rather be bushwhacking on his cross-country skis or snowshoes, or even trudging in the mud, as long as it’s outside. In the summer? Lawn mowing, gardening, raking leaves, these are all really effective ways to get your heart pumping.
- Stretching and Balance are essential: Once you get moving, and have that plan in place, it’s hard to slow down. I remember always laughing at my Dad, thinking he was just slow-moving, who for years would take a good hour to stretch before even coming downstairs for breakfast. And he always took even more time to prepare before one of his epic Sunday bike rides. But now I get it. Since forcing myself to stretch and learn yoga moves, my back has not been a problem. I find even when I’m on a hike and I trip over a log, or branch, something I inevitably do, I recover more quickly from falls. And can’t tell you how often in everyday activities: bending down to put away dishes, weeding, reaching, squatting to pick something up, I am thankful for the flexibility. And, knock on wood, I have not been injured and do believe I owe this to the fact I slow down a few times a week to include this type of training.
Now that I have said it, I’ll go back to just doing-my-thing, not talking about fitness and making it look like my active lifestyle and super-strong arms just developed by chance…
But if you decide you want to chat, or add some of your tips, please comment. I’d love to hear!
The most important lesson I have learned over the last few years:
Being fit and healthy is not a given; it’s a choice.
Think of it like a prescription; would you not take a vitamin your Doctor recommends?
Would you skip a medication?
Don’t skip this, make the time, and the choice to be strong. Now and for the future you.
And when you are, we’ll put you to the test by taking Balsam down to the river to see who outlasts who, in one of those endless games of river fetch.