Sunday, November 3, 2013

Finding Joy In Exercise

I was never incredibly athletic as a child. Aside from a few years spent being terrible at soccer I didn't do any formal exercise until well into my teen years. At that point I took up rock climbing and loved it. I spent several hours a week at my local rec center climbing with friends. It was a blast and helped me develop muscles and meet cute boys. By college I was no longer rock climbing but would occasionally spend a few hours a week on a elliptical machine listening to music and all the while trying to forget how much I hated to exercise. I would also throw in some weight lifting for good measure when I thought about. Also by that point I was concerned about calories and loosing weight so I counted my calories and made sure to log enough hours at the gym it was tolerable at best and miserable the rest of the time. I exercised in attempts to loose weight. Not to be healthy.

Towards the end of college I tried my hand at running and worked up to a pathetic 3 miles in 30 minutes. I know that sounds slow to seasoned runners but that was the absolute best that I could do. I never experienced any sort of "runners high" or got any satisfaction from running a long distance. All I ever felt came from running was getting tired.

The one type of exercise that I did enjoy in college was dancing. Never formal dancing like ballroom, ballet or jazz (although I tried them all and was terrible at each of them). Rather I enjoyed the less formal dances like Salsa, Country Swing and Lindy Hop. I could dance for hours without getting winded or being remotely conscious of calorie burning nonsense. I would go home high as a cloud and happy to be alive.

I took a long break from formal exercise or dancing after college. The only thing I found myself doing was taking incredibly long walks with my infant son. I estimate that we probably walked 7-10 miles a day. It was wonderful leisurely exploring our neighborhood. When winter struck I went stir crazy and joined a gym again but this time I did not stick to the monotony of cardo machines. Rather I went straight to Zumba.

Once I got over the fact that I was still just as terrible at learning new dance moves as I had been in college I began to have a genuinely good time. The better time I had the more I wanted to go back. Within a month of attending my first Zumba class I was going 4-5 times a week.

There wasn't any dramatic transformation of my body as I was already at a healthy weight. My endurance increased and I developed muscle tone. But above all else I was exercising for the joy of it, it was something I could look forward to. I still love it to this day even though my coordination or ability to remember the routines has not improved in the slightest.

My own recent love of fitness has caused me to become more critical or my past motivations for exercise as well as make me aware of other people who struggling with body image. Lately I keep seeing these "thinspiration" pictures on pinterest where people with the coveted "thigh gap" or "perfect six pack abs" are pictured and people pin them as a way to inspire themselves into exercising or starving themselves until they too look this way.

Don't hate me but I admit that after both of my kids were born I had a thigh gap even though I ate normal amounts of food and could barely run a mile. I weighed a measly 105 pounds. Being "skinny fat" is a real thing, I was living proof. But even though as I skinny I was far from being healthy is not about being skinny. Besides if you really did start a full fitness program hell bent on loosing weight you would learn that scale may start to climb as you body loses fat but gains heavier muscle. Fitness is not a number on the scale. It is not about the number of centimeters between your thighs.

On the opposite end of the spectrum I have friends who will never be ultra skinny even if they lived on starvation diets and ran marathons.  But these people eat healthy and are active. My fantastic best friend growing up exercised for hours a day at a Olympic level and my arms still looked more buff that hers by virtue of genetics. Our bodies are different we all come from parents with a million different body builds. Beautiful is not a single body type.

I hate that I feel like I need to mention this but I hate that there are people who hate on skinny/fit people. Mind your own business, unless you are worried that someone has an actual eating and or exercise disorder. I am referring to this specific article by the way Apparently people took the time to call this super fit mom a bad mother. Now if she was spending 8 hours a day at the gym while her kids were at a daycare or with a nanny then that would concern me, but this does not seem to be the case at all. She simply  prioritizes her health and that is a nothing to attack her for

 My own mother gave birth to 6 children and was incredibly fit and active all through her child bearing years and still is today as a grandmother (and this woman has Multiple Scheloris no less). She says that staying active and healthy gave her the energy she needed to get everything done and that the more she moves the better she feels.

If you face physical limitations regarding exercise work with a Dr./Physical Therapist/Personal Trainer to find activities that you can do without aggravating your condition. Over time you may even find the exercise you do allows you more physical mobility or less pain. My favorite example of this is a popular YouTube video about a injured war veteran who goes from using crutches to running through the patient practicing of Yoga, Pilates and other exercise.

To me the ultimate goal of fitness is a combination of two things being healthy and finding joy. So if whatever you are doing for exercising is boring you to tears try something else. Try Zumba, biking, hiking, trail running, power weight lifting, Cross Fit, cycling, swimming, kayaking, racketball, squash, basketball, volleyball, soccer, or exercise videos. Heck run around with your kids playing elementary school style tag or dance around you home to music. The more fun you have the more you will want to do it. If you are only exercising to achieve a unrealistic body ideal consider finding a different fitness goal, one that focuses on health and joy.

Anyhow enough rambling, find some type of exercise that you love, then do it because you love it. Your body will thank you.

1 comment:

  1. You are fantastic too, my friend. :). This is a great article. And you are absolutely right. It is important to have a healthy relationship with your body, and that includes a healthy relationship with food and exercise. Defining worth by how someone looks is narrow minded. Here is my favorite quote on the subject: