There are few things that you can’t do if you are willing to apply yourself.Greg Lemond
“Go get some exercise!” Great advice! After all, the mental and physical health benefits of daily exercise are tremendous. For folks like me who practice self-care to manage depression, it has been wonderful to experience directly what studies show: Regular, modest exercise is at least as effective as antidepressants. Healthy Living.
So, why is it sometimes so bloody hard to follow this great advice? What follows are some thoughts on how to actually look forward to exercising rather than dreaming up excuses not to.
Before we all stop talking the talk and take a thirty-minute walk, here’s a novel idea: Let’s be patient with and kind to ourselves. Ironically, if someone dissed us as much as we sometimes scorn ourselves, we’d be angry and hurt. That’s because it’s nice when people are nice to us. So, let’s turn this idea on its head, and start learning to like and take better care of ourselves. After all, Mr. Rogers liked us just the way we are (at least when we were little kids).
— Getting started.
I like to bike, but my biggest hurdle is just getting started each day. I often encounter a metaphorical fork in the road. The left arrow says “Watch more Netflix.” The right arrow says “Exercise.” I hang a right most often when I start by simply focusing on getting the bike out of the garage and starting to pedal. No goals yet. After about five minutes, procrastination and lethargy are washed away by endorphins and the pleasure of being outside. I cannot think of a single day when I wasn’t glad that I had gone for a ride or a walk. Credit to fellow cyclist Jeff L., who reminds us: There’s no bad weather, only inadequate gear.
— Adios Gymnasium.
The corona virus is keeping us out of the gym, but you need very little equipment to do a work-out. Three times a week, while I walk our yellow lab Mo, I use a hand-held weight (the other hand holds the leash), and do four or five upper body exercises. Some days I manage one or two more reps than I did the time before, and sometimes I do fewer. Process over goal. Mo gets it.
— Stay on track.
I like to keep track of my progress. It gives me a sense of incremental improvement. The idea is to lay one small brick in the fitness foundation every day. Some folks swear by data-rich apps such as Strava. Being an old school guy, I just use a weekly chart with fields for miles, time spent, heart rate, and effort expended. The scale goes from 1 (gentle recovery) to 5 (a hard effort).
— Be accountable (to a nice person).
It can be helpful to keep a friend/coach regularly updated on what you are up to. I send my weekly progress chart to my cycling coach (I’ll call him Fausto). When I am really struggling to climb a hill, it helps me to think that Fausto will be proud of me if I do. If I don’t turn in a productive week, instead of busting my chops, Fausto usually reminds me of some of the points I am making here. The trick is to check in with someone who inspires you to exercise but doesn’t make you feel guilty when you don’t.
— Fly solo?
There can be strength in numbers provided that, during the pandemic, we social distance. A 30-minute walk with a friend is a good way to catch up, it makes you more likely to walk the walk, and the time may go by faster.
On the other hand, exercising with someone else can create logistical issues, spawn unwanted competition, and detract from the meditative benefits that thoughtful exercise can bring. I often ride by myself, so I can pay attention to things like the cadence of my pedal strokes, or the pavement flowing under my wheels. It’s up to you. My point: Just because your friend canceled on you, doesn’t mean you should cancel the walk. Speaking of which…
— Do only what you can today.
Sometimes I don’t have the time or the gumption to do a ride listed on my weekly schedule. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get on the bike or walk a bit that day. Progress not perfection.
— It’s not a competition.
Tell your ego to take the year off. That annoying person who blew by you in the electric green tights checking his heart rate every five seconds isn’t a better person. He has just been laying bricks in his fitness foundation longer than you have. Don’t look at him; look forward to putting an entry in your progress chart.
Go online and find some simple stretches to do before you start and when you are done. This may sound a little odd, but it is important to warm up the muscles you are going to stretch before you stretch them. Walk and then jog gently for few minutes first. Then stretch. Take it very slow. Pay attention to the feelings in the part of the body that you are stretching. Stretch again when you are done.
Fitness comes from steady training over time. You can’t “will” yourself to do something your body isn’t ready for. There is good pain and bad pain. Working through bad pain sounds cool and macho, but an injury will throw you back on the couch. When in doubt, reduce the effort or stop. You are being a smart athlete, not a wimp.
In the same vein, while I certainly applaud the grit of the classic Weekend Warrior, there are downsides to exercising full-tilt without gradual training to back up the effort. Some WW’s are former athletes who understandably have confidence in their abilities. But confidence and adequate preparation are not the same thing. Without the latter, you may end up icing a swollen knee on the couch at the end of the weekend, playing warrior video games.
— Take recovery days.
Give your body regular breaks to recover. I try to do a ride four to five times a week. The other two or three are for recovery. On the “off bike” days, I do a little walking and lift that little weight while Mo snuffles around for what she considers tasty snacks. The time off helps my body and muscles adapt to the healthy effort I put in on the other days. It is not hard to over train, and the results can be counter-intuitively counterproductive. (A- for alliteration there.)
— When other stuff gets in the way.
There will be times when your fitness seems to go backwards. That’s part of the process. If I have to miss a number of bike days in a row for travel or something, I get nervous that my fitness will fade. No worries. When I get back in the saddle, my fitness usually isn’t that far below where it was before the break. Hopefully during that week, I have been able to at least take several walks. Most hotels have a fitness room of some kind.
Finally, do a little preparation before you go out. Are you hydrated and have you eaten enough before you go? Need a water bottle or an energy bar? Got the playlists set up? Is the bike in working order and the helmet in good shape? (See my post on reducing the risks of biking.) If the answers are some variation on “yes,” then off you go.
Nothing can stop us now!
BOOK: The Exercise Cure, Jordan Metzl, MD
MOVIE: Breaking Away
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. Arthur Ashe
Zennis (Mindfulness and the Spin of the Ball)