Tuesday this week, I had a super long day ahead of me, with really challenging work. Somehow, I got out of bed and went to a 6 am spinning class. (Then I might have been really annoying about it on FB).
I’m not a crack of dawn worker-outer — but something in me just knew that this class was a thing I would need for my day. And my day was hard, but I navigated it with a certain amount of ease.
That spin class was workout #304 for 2019.
Not that long ago, I wrote about hitting my 250th workout for 2019.” In that post, I reflected on how taking on the “217 in 2017″ challenge nearly three years ago had transformed my relationship with working out — and in fact in some ways, has actually transformed my identity. I used to be a person who worked out often, but there was a lot of negotiation and whinging about whether I really “felt like it” or not. More times than I can count, I got as far as putting on running gear but never getting out the door. (Christine wrote about this kind of exercise procrastination last week. It’s definitely a thing).
Somewhere in the past two years, I turned into a person who works out every day, pretty much, unless something seriously prevents me. I’m not sure exactly when or why it happened — in 2017, I had to stretch to hit my 217th workout on Christmas day. In 2018, I hit 218 by August, and kind of gritted my teeth to reach 300 before the end of the year (302 in total). This year, I sailed past 300 last weekend, and felt confident about setting a goal of 350 by the end of the year.
A casual observer might think that reaching for 350 workouts this year might be a slightly obsessive manifestation of my weird affinity for counting things. (For a very non-data-driven person, I take an unseemly satisfaction from hitting cumulative numbers of workouts, steps, kilometres ridden, streaks). But I had a realization last week that it’s something a lot different than that — working out in some way almost every day this year has had a pretty profound effect on my emotional landscape.
I have been bleating about the relationship between exercise and mental health for years now. It’s a proven thing, so familiar it’s almost a cliche. Exercise can prevent or help manage depression, lessen anxiety and stress, and just generally lighten your mood. I’ve “known” this for decades. But I’ve never felt it in such a steady, persistent way before.
A couple of months ago, my business partner commented that I seemed so much more patient these days. And despite some intense work stress and considerable lashings of perimenopausal PMS and hormonal swings, I’m actually feeling an emotional buffer — dare I say emotional regulation — that I’ve sought most of my life. Since I was a small child, I’ve had a lot of anxiety and stress. (Picture poor little 7 year old me crying on the couch, clutching my stomach and freaking out my teenage babysitter, because we were about to move. Then multiply that for countless other experiences throughout my life). Most of my adult life I’ve had a tendency to impatience and irritability, with a fair bit of volatility at the worst points in my life. I’ve taken anti-depressants, run marathons, meditated, yoga’ed, and done a ton of “inner work,” as they say. All of those things have helped steady me — along with the magical seasoning of being past 50 — but I don’t know if I’ve ever felt as in balance as I do right now. Stressful stuff still happens — and I feel it — but I can hold it at arm’s length, breathe through it, detach from its power — in a way I never have before.
The 305.5 workouts I’ve done so far this year are a melange, ranging from a brisk 4 km walk or hour of restorative yoga to 7 hour bike rides and cross-fit classes. Turns out, for more emotionally regulated, balanced me, it’s not about intensity of any given episode of exercise, but about a steady stream of them. I don’t know exactly what brain/metabolic process is being triggered here, but it’s definitely a good thing.
This realization doesn’t mean I’m going to grimly trudge through a prescriptive roster of movement, for my own good. 95% of time, I fully enjoy whatever exercise I’m doing, once I’m doing it. It’s the starting to exercise part that has always been a source of avoidance and irritation. Somehow in the past three years, it’s stopped being optional — it’s just is a thing I do. This realization about the impact just reinforces that shift.
What about you? Can you actually feel the difference for your mental and emotional health of regular movement?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works out in Toronto.