Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would become someone so committed to my fitness routine that I would exercise 6 days week, with two hours every third day for weight training and cardio. I have always understood as an adult that exercise is an important part of a healthy life style. But to put it mildly, making exercise a vital part of my life, never mind my daily routine, did not come easily. Growing up, the very idea of sweating was totally unappealing, while being out of breath easily came way too easily. Miserable P.E. classes in which I was always the last to be picked for any team and general klutziness did nothing to make exercise seem like a good idea. A few visits in my mid-20’s to a typical chain fitness center filled with model thin, spandex-clad women in a passing effort to impress my then boyfriend (now husband) did nothing to enchant me to the very idea of “regular exercise.”
After giving birth to two sons, I came to appreciate my body for more than its seeming inability to be thin or lithe. Yet my complete and utter love for my sons inspired me to care in a new way about being healthy. I want to be strong and present for my sons and husband. All well and good, but I was about 90 pounds overweight after giving birth to my second son, leaving me miserable and uncomfortable in my own skin and ready to get serious about it. Long story short, I went on a doctor-supervised strict diet to lose the first 50 pounds and gradually started exercising.
What started as my gasping for air as I spent 5 minutes on each of 3 different cardio activities, like the treadmill and elliptical, has grown to a serious commitment. Oddly enough, over time, I found not only great stress relief but also an endorphin rush much healthier for me than the similar rush I still get from carbs and caffeine. Initially, I built up to working out 2 to 3 times a week when my sons were younger – and obviously had very limited time for exercise. Gradually over time, as they got older and I could manage my work-family time better, I increased my workouts to my current 6 days a week.
The results? I’m still not thin, in fact, I’m still 30 pounds overweight. But my blood counts and blood pressure are excellent, and I feel so much healthier and stronger and draw so much energy from my workouts. Getting older has helped me accept that we aren’t all meant to be thin. Instead, taking care of myself and being healthy is what is most important. I discovered that my local JCC in Cleveland was the right environment for me, where the staff and facilities are wonderful and supportive, and the members are regular people trying to get or stay fit (so much so that I became a JCC Board member).
Here are some tips for finding exercise that fits your preferences and situation based on my experiences:
Find activities you enjoy, trying different things till you know better what you’ll find fun, or at least tolerable. Whether it is a traditional gym workout, pilates, yoga, zumba, bicycling, long walks, water aerobics, hiking, cross country skiing, or something else doesn’t matter. What matters is finding the right mix of activities that will make it most appealing to you. For more exercise ideas, check out this blog posting on Ten Ways to Get Exercise Without a Gym.
Be patient with yourself yet persistent. At first, truthfully, I just about hated it. But I liked how it made me feel and the progress that I felt.
Build up time as you have time and ability. I started with 15 minutes per workout building up to 30 and then 40 minutes, etc., as my stamina and child care situation evolved, and my children got older.
Aim for locations close to home, ideally no more than a 15 minute drive or walk from home or work to optimize how often you will really go.
Consider child care needs. If your children are young, look for reasonably priced, on-site childcare. Ask the child care center what screening they do before hiring, and check out the site in person.
Test out any gym, studio, exercise classes, or memberships with no longer than a one-month pass so you can really get a feel for the environment. Avoid like the plague any high pressure sales tactics, and be wary of signing any contract without reading it over carefully. Look at who the clientele seem to be, what the environment is — from the attitude and type of people to the cleanliness and safety of the facility and equipment. How helpful and friendly are the staff? Pay attention to how you feel while there. If comparing different places, think about where you felt most at home, where and what you most enjoyed doing.
Get a workout buddy. Find another mom with a similar fitness level and goals so that you can motivate each other. Make a pact to go together, and to encourage each other when you’re tired.
If possible, invest in a trainer or teacher, at least for a few months to help you get into a healthy routine that makes you happy. Make sure they have a certification from a professional organization and that their background seems suited to your goals, needs, and personality. For example, if a trainer specializes in coaching marathon runners, and your hardest workout until recently was how long it took you to get from the family room sofa to the kitchen refrigerator to pick out your nightly treats, you will likely be mismatched. In that case, a trainer who specializes in beginners and couch potatoes may be a better bet. I was drawn to trainers who had worked with people losing weight and who understood the lifestyle of a Mom with young children. If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or newly postpartum, be sure that the trainer or teacher is certified in prenatal or postnatal activities.
Be especially careful if you have any limitations or past injuries, such as back issues or a previous knee problem or broken bone. Seek out someone who specializes in coaching people who have recovered from injuries. And of course check in with your doctor or other medical professionals before starting a new workout routine. Again, if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or newly postnatal, be sure to seek specialized classes or teachers.
Don’t ignore or sluff over the need to stretch out before or after you work out to minimize discomfort from starting a new exercise routine and protect your body from injury. Pace yourself. If you haven’t been very physically active, it’s hard to jump into a high level workout routine without alternating days and building up strength.
Get enough sleep. Remember that sleep is your first priority, and is challenging when your children are young. If your children wake you up early, go to bed early yourself so that you have the energy to exercise. Lack of sleep can contribute to inertia and weight gain.
What have you found to be most helpful in building a regular exercise routine?