fitness · Guest Post

It’s not enough for me (Guest post)

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Santa threw a Health magazine in my stocking this year. In typical voracious reader fashion, I read the whole thing. I’ve got an intensely critical view of fitness and health magazines, but I still read them when they are put in my path. Two things stood out for me in this issue.

The editor’s message: “If I eat right and fit in at least 30 minutes of exercise, even an ordinary day at the office feels like a win.”  The columnist’s (Tracy Anderson) message: “When the calendar is jam-packed, I know it’s tempting to push exercise to the back burner … to help you squeeze fitness into your crazy days, I’ve come up with a supereffective 10-minute head-to-toe toner.”

I know exactly why these two messages jumped out at me. I spent a very full fall squeezing in exercise in 10-, 20-, and 30-minute bursts, hoping my fitness would not suffer too much, hoping a less-is-more approach would allow me to find time for other things that mattered to me. I have an active life to begin with, I reasoned, so I just need to keep that up.

By the end of November, my exercise “routine” consisted of:  walking the dog daily (sometimes for 45 minutes, usually for 25, to his detriment and mine), playing with my son, walking around campus with a filled backpack, taking the stairs, soccer once a week, the odd yoga class. It was the minimum possible, meeting the “get 30 minutes of exercise” a day guideline only by virtue of the speed at which I walk (my heart rate actually did go up).

It’s not enough for me.

After a fall of doing the bare minimum needed to maintain my sanity, I am back exercising more. It did not happen overnight, and it is requiring a pretty substantial reset only made possible by virtue of the holiday closure of the university at which I work.  It started on December 1st. My son had a Lego advent calendar; I had a commitment to myself to get on the recumbent bike for 30 minutes each morning I was home, in addition to the “active” life. It was a start, a stop-gap plan until the rush of the fall term would end for me on December 19th. (It was also a way to deal with the work intensity of December, but that’s another story).

Since December 22, I’ve been back as a regular at the YMCA each morning (except for Dec 25, when it was closed). In my first class, Boot Camp, a mix of cardio intervals and weight sets, my legs were shaking so much in the final set of lunges that I needed to break my form. I spent Christmas day grimacing any time I had to use a gluteal muscle.

At some point in my run yesterday, I shifted from thinking about the productive soreness in my muscles, and started thinking about why less-is-more did not work for me in this instance. It’s worked elsewhere over the past year: I answer fewer emails, own fewer items of clothing, generally have a “try to declutter” attitude. I also thought about minimums and how, for me at least, there is a definite relationship between taking time and taking space. In my 15 weeks “off,” my best guess is that my weight fluctuated only slightly and if that’s what I cared about maybe there would be no issue for me; all of my clothes still fit. (I was actually kind of surprised by that, once I realized how much fitness I had relinquished). I noticed it in how I carried myself, though. How my shoulders no longer entered the room before me. How my legs were more often crossed than in power poses. How I felt small, not just petite. In that digressive way the mind works when running, I thought of the sign above my desk that reads “Go the extra mile. It’s never crowded.” Minimums have never worked for me, in anything I do – what on earth made me think that it would work when fitness was concerned?

I’ll keep reading about how less-is-more – and I might even apply some of it to my daily life – but when it comes to exercise, I’m pretty clearly in the more-is-more camp.

4 thoughts on “It’s not enough for me (Guest post)

  1. I’m with you. Some people can maintain an incredibly high level of fitness through periods of inactivity. Not me. It’s another way we vary, person to person, in our responsiveness to exercise. I need more too.

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  2. Having a few days of only partial workouts (either my morning workout or my evening workout but not both) this past week reminded me how much I like having the time I currently have to spend on solid workouts regularly. Good for you for recognizing that you needed more and remind yourself (if needed!) that the extra time spent is all for much-needed self care.

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  3. I ‘ve been thinking about this a lot. I need a lot of exercise to feel my best the minimum is like…just to survive but for me to thrive I need to carve out that hour of intense AND walk to work, walk the dogs etc.

    I think too, Ive found the sweet spot of optimal intensity and frequency and I really notice it when im not moving my body enough. I feel really gross.

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  4. I agree with you; I had a super-busy fall with extra teaching and some research deadlines, so I did the minimum in exercise. My sleep suffered, and my body felt overall much more creaky. And also, when I did exercise intensely (I managed squash matches 1–2x/wk), my recovery was longer. So this term I am making exercise a higher priority. During the break I’m doing a lot more as well, and my body feels more like me. Thanks for articulating this!

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