You never regret a workout. That’s the common mantra isn’t it? What a lot of people say to themselves when trying to get up out of bed for a morning run or to the gym after a long day of work. Well, I’m here to tell you, I used to also live by this statement and it made me miserable.
My journey with exercise started back when I was in high school. Like a lot of girls, I was a cardio queen and loved the elliptical. In college I became a certified spinning instructor and started teaching classes. I remember I would wake up everyday at 5 or 6am to go to the gym to run, teach spin or step my life away on the stair master before starting my busy days. At the time this was enjoyable for me and felt healthy. In grad school it was the same, but I got into weight lifting, recognizing I was already walking a lot and needed to gain some healthy weight. It was challenging to take a rest day because working out was just such a part of my routine. I really loved it. This was a healthy amount for me at that time in my life.
Fast forward to after graduation when I got my first full-time job. I was working in a hospital a half hour away and needed to be at work by 7:45am. I would drag myself out of bed to workout every morning at 5am, rush back to get ready and eat my breakfast in the car on the drive there. I would work a full day and come home exhausted only to force myself to get up to do it all over again. I thought if I didn’t exercise as much, I would become flabby and loose all my muscle tone and strength I had built.What I didn’t realize, at the time, is more exercise is not always better.
Our society is just as screwed up about exercise as it is about food. We are told that we have to exercise a certain number of minutes/days to stay healthy. We have to do a certain type too. It has to be intense, we need to be breathless and we need to leave sore and/or sweaty. If not, then it wasn’t effective or good enough. Just like American’s messed up food beliefs (cupcakes are “bad” for example), the latter beliefs are just as inaccurate and unhealthy.
In my line of work, we use the term “movement”, not exercise. We do this for a couple of reasons: 1.) Exercise often has a negative association attached due to the listed “rules” above and (i.e. it has to hurt or make you uncomfortable to be effective) 2.) We believe all movement counts, not just formalized exercise done at a gym. A leisurely walk with a friend on a lunch break counts. Vacuuming your house counts. Playing with your dog or kids counts. A relaxation yoga class, you guessed it, counts.
Exercise doesn’t have to be as intense or frequent as fitness magazines or fitness guru on the Today show says it does. Everyone is different and just like with food, every body needs it’s own unique formula for movement.If you enjoy yoga do that. Running half marathons, go for it. If you hate running or strength training don’t do those things. Stop forcing yourself to do activities you don’t truly enjoy. . If you don’t enjoy more formalized movement, build more into your everyday routine such as parking farther away or doing active things with loved ones like bowling instead of watching TV. Remember, all movement counts.
Nowadays, I exercise 2-4X/week on average and my workouts look much different. I do what I want and feel like, not what someone else tells me is healthy. I cut down the number of classes I teach slowly from 4 to 2 to now only 1X/week. Sure it was a bit of a fitness identity crisis , but it is what I need right now as I try to juggle the rest of my life. I also appreciate less taxing exercise like a gentle yoga class or a walk outside with a friend, things I didn’t “count” as exercise before. This is what’s healthy for me now, in this stage of my life.
Sure, I still have the little voice in the back of my head saying things like “you should really strength train more, your going to loose your muscle tone” or “wow, you only worked out X times this week, you definitely need to workout more next week”, but I don’t get stuck on them anymore. I know what is right for my body and finally have gained the power to listen and respond to it appropriately.
And want to know a secret? I am still the same size. Sure my body composition changed, but only slightly. I didn’t turn into an unfit blob. I didn’t get heart disease or diabetes. More importantly, I am so much happier AND healthier, physically and mentally. I don’t feel like I am running on empty by the end of the day anymore. Sure, exercise can give you energy and release stress, but you have to recognize when it becomes a problem and you become reliant on it (stay tuned for another post about this). Sometimes it is a better idea to sleep in or grab a few drinks with friends after work instead of adhering to your regularly scheduled workout. Trust me on this and practice being kind to your body.