It’s not enough for me (Guest post)


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.

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