On a road trip back from Montreal, Sarah’s sister Victoria sang the praises of ToDoist. Well, she repeated praises from a friend who is getting so much more done on a regular basis now she has the app.
Needless to say, we three downloaded it and began adding our daily habits, real and aspirational.
I’ve been looking for a new list maker/habit tracker since I’ve started to overwhelm Google Keep with too many lists. It’s good for notes but not so good for ticking off boxes.
Here’s my current crop of aspirational daily habits:
And it’s not a must-do, but I pretty much always Wordle.
But how to fit it all in? I Wordle very fast in the morning so Wordle plus read, write, floss, and Duolingo would be under an hour if I stuck to my ten minutes of reading and writing. I often don’t though since that’s part of the power of the tiny habit. It’s 10 minutes minimum so I tell myself, “Who doesn’t have time to write for 10 minutes?” and then often stick it out for 30.
Reading/Duolingo/Meditation are all nighttime/in bed things.
The others are all evening things and that’s where things can sort of fall apart. Last night for example, I watched Our Flag Means Death (I was drawn to finish it after reading 10 Queer Reasons You Should Be Watching Our Flag Means Death.) and didn’t make it to mobility training, flossing, or planks!
Maybe I need to pick fewer things? But which to get rid of? I could put all the daily habits in a hat and select one lottery style. Or I could count as a pass getting 6 of the 8 done?
An aside: In grad school my roommate had an unusual night time routine. She would either do sit ups or floss. It was never both. It was always a choice, “Is this a floss night or a sit ups night?”
So in search of solutions to my daily habits problem, I turned to the habit expert BJ Fogg. Fogg says to make a new habit we need three things:
Some level of motivation
The ability to do the thing
The trigger to do the thing
What’s missing, for me, and for most of us is the trigger. It’s a thing we can do, and we want to do it, but how to make the magic happen? That’s where the idea of “habit stacking” comes in. You have things you always do and you attach the new habit to that. Fogg gives the example of doing push ups after he pees. I used to do burpees (when I was mid burpee challenge) waiting for the microwave to finish its work. Likewise, I had great success doing shoulder physio by doing it each time I walked through my office door, en route to my desk. I had the red physio band tied to the doorknob to remind me.
He recommends setting habit intentions like this, “After I ………….., I will…………….”
Key Point: “Set the habit you want to make right after something you already do.” i.e. Do 2 pushups right after going to the bathroom or flossing just 1 tooth after brushing your teeth. What’s important is to make the habit TINY so that you will do it no matter how tired or unmotivated you are, yet you will be creating the seed for a good habit nonetheless. (Also that you should praise yourself after doing the habit. Tell yourself “I’m awesome!” or pump your fists in the air).”
Well this is not the post I expected to write this month! A few months back I wrote Sam that I had been exploring and really enjoying exercise and would like to regularly blog about aquafit. At that time, I’d been going to the pool two to three times per week for a few months. It was a habit and it felt good. I also had started really enjoying the feeling of getting a good cardio workout. That itself felt like a minor miracle.
I wrote my introductory post and looked forward to seeing what was coming on my journey of digging into exercise. It turns out what was awaiting me the last month was a lot of frustration and not getting to exercise! This is not new – many people struggle to get to their gym or their exercise. Women especially are conditioned to put our needs after others. In my case, historically it’s been really easy to distract me from exercise because honestly, I didn’t like it and I didn’t want to do it.
This is different though. I want to get there. Apparently though, wanting isn’t always enough. I’ve only been to the pool a couple of times since mid-April. And it shows. It shows in my mindset, which is more easily frustrated. It shows in my aching hips that don’t want to sit for hours while I teach and grade. It shows in my own disappointment too.
Now I have good reasons for not getting to the gym. I’m on a job search that is going s.l.o.w.l.y. (I teach college on contract and I want a permanent, student-facing job!). My husband is on sabbatical in Italy for the month of May. He’s working hard too and I’m happy to support him, but oh boy, I didn’t anticipate how many things would go sideways at home with our kids while he was away, or how much of our lives relate to getting our kids to places. I am struggling between my kids’ needs and my own, and my own have been losing out.
In truth, all reasons for not exercising are “good” reasons. Our reasons can be legitimate even when they are frustrating or disappointing. Canadian society seems to have a fixation with connecting fitness with guilt and judgement (as anyone who knows this blog knows). The last thing I want to do in writing today is to contribute a sense of judgment of people’s choices. What I do want to acknowledge (mainly mainly to myself) is that for the first time I really miss exercising. That makes this post another in my posts celebrating my journey toward enjoying and, I would say, reclaiming my body as my own for my own use. THAT feels pretty good to say.
So since I’m missing activity, and my growing strength and confidence as (dare I say it?) an athlete, it seems that my next challenge is to actually get back in the pool, and doing some late spring hiking. I can see I need to re-establish my routines and make space for myself in my life. I’m working on that now. So far the best I can do is get out each day to walk my dog. It’s a start – I’ll let you know in a month how it went!
Am I an athlete? Are you? We’ve wondered that here on the blog. Indeed, Tracy wrote about that way way back in 2012. (OMG, the blog is nearly 10 years old!)
Tracy wrote, “When I first wanted to be a writer, I used to read lots about writing. I read more about writing than I actually wrote. Something I read that stuck with me more than anything was that if you want to be a writer, start thinking of yourself as a writer. Call yourself a writer. Organize your schedule as a writer would. Write.It took awhile, but eventually, instead of thinking in terms of wanting to be a writer, I started to think of myself as a writer. And I behaved as a writer. That is, I started to write. I wonder if we can say the same for athletes? If you start to think of yourself as an athlete, will you then behave as one?”
“The idea is familiar. When we adopt an exercise identity, physical activity becomes a part of who we are and a powerful standard that can drive behaviour. Research I conducted at the University of Manitoba and the University of Ottawa shows that the more adults identify with exercise or physical activity, the more they do it.”
“In my research, people started seeing themselves as exercisers when physical activity crept into other aspects of their lives. So shamelessly wear the gear, even when you aren’t exercising. And don’t be shy to work exercise into your conversations.
One of my favourite thinky posts here on the blog is one of Cate’s about identity. She asks, How many fitness lives do we get? I know I’ve gone through lots of different stages, from ‘active involved outdoorsy parent’ to ‘recreationally competitive cyclist’ to my current focus ‘get in the best shape possible for knee surgery.’
Athlete might be too high a bar for many of us to adopt but it’s not the only option. You can think of yourself as someone who enjoys exercise, the person for whom movement is fun. I think of myself as someone who needs to exercise for reasons of mental and emotional health. That means I do it even when I’m busy and stressed, or maybe especially when I am busy and stressed.
I think developing an identity is why people post workouts and selfies and social media. It’s often derided as ‘showing off’ but that’s always struck me as a bit off. Ditto wearing athletic clothes. Yes, it’s signalling that you workout but it also makes working out–fitting in a quick run and some stretching–easier.
How about you? Do you have an identity as an exerciser, as a fit and active person, as an athlete? What, if anything, do you to foster and maintain that sense of identity?
(This post is long. Get comfy and get some tea before you dig in.)
Usually when I have my dobok on, I’m heading to a Taekwondo class but for a few mornings last month, I headed to art class instead.
Thanks to my friend, Jennifer, I had the opportunity to be a model for three sessions of the sketching group that she helps organize and it was a delightfully positive experience for me.
I was nervous about it at first. I wanted to be a good model for them, to do something useful and interesting, but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hold my TKD movements for the right length of time or that I would lose focus and move at the wrong time.
My concerns made sense – I knew I would have to do two 5 minute poses, two 10 minute poses, and a twenty minute pose and then we’d have a break before I did a long pose – 45 minutes to an hour. Even the shortest of those is a long time to hold a move that is supposed to take a few seconds and I had literally no idea what I was going to do for that long pose.
Luckily, for the first two sessions, Jennifer had me do something different for the 45-60 minute pose. Instead of being still, she wanted me to repeat a series of motions over and over so the artists could practice quickly capturing basic elements and then add in details as the movements were repeated. (Doing the same set of motions over and over for an hour was NOT a problem for someone who knows 16 different TKD patterns and is working on the 17th.)
By the time that we got to the third week, I had figured out that I could use some of our stretches for that long pose so it ended up being almost relaxing.
Overall, being a model was an interesting experience that gave me some real insights into my TKD practice. It helped me to make some connections that I hadn’t fully thought through and it helped me have a better sense of where I am in some important aspects of my training.
Here are a few of the things I took away from my brief modeling career. 😉
Before going to each session, I spent a lot of time thinking about the poses I was going to do – factoring in how long I could hold them and what would be interesting for the artists to draw. They had requested poses at different heights but I also considered having variety in the poses in other ways – my hands turned differently or my foot at a different angle. Doing this sort of deep thought about my abilities and about how to get my movements just right was a really great way to assess my strengths and to ensure that I really understood how certain movements are supposed to look.
I did end up presenting some ‘reasonable facsimiles’ because there would be no way that I could, for example, stand on one foot for 10 minutes straight. I could, however, stand on one foot and rest my other knee on a support so it was almost like I was in the right position. That did mean that I was using my muscles differently than I would in a pattern but the session was about the artists practicing, it wasn’t about producing perfect drawings for a TKD manual. The key thing for me was that I had a very clear understanding of the difference between how I was modeling a movement and how I would execute it in practice. I really had to understand how it was supposed to be done in order to adapt it to use in the session.
All Kinds Of Information From One Pose
One of my poses involved me reclining on the platform with my legs extended to one side like they would be in a flying side kick. Admittedly, it didn’t look very much like an actual flying side kick but it did give the artists something interesting to draw and sitting with my legs in the right position did give me a solid sense of which muscles I need to stretch and to strengthen to improve my kick.
An unexpected side benefit was the fact that my friend Jennifer, who among her many other accomplishments, writes and illustrates historical graphic novels, found this pose very useful. In her current project, one of the things she has to depict is women my age climbing into a lifeboat. Seeing me with one hand supporting me while my hip and butt rested on a flat surface with my leg out to the side gave her a good sense of how a middle-aged woman’s body would look as she perched on the side of the boat and swung her legs inside.
Using My Whole Body
One of the operating principles in TKD, and probably all martial arts, is that a punch or kick is not just about using your arm or your leg, you recruit a variety of other muscles to add power and refinement to your movements. I understand this intellectually but unless I deliberately choose to focus on it during class, I’m not always sure that I am doing it consistently.
After my sessions as a model, I feel much more confident that I must be engaging my other muscles because of how the artists commented on my poses. Receiving friendly advice to make sure to use my abs to help support my extended arm and realizing that I was already doing that was a confidence boost. And hearing one artist comment to another that I was helping her how all my muscles had to work together to create the movement delighted me – if she could see it, I really must be executing the movement correctly.
Consistency For The Win
As you know from some of my other posts, I struggle with consistency. And, beyond that, I struggle to know if I am being consistent or not, especially when it comes to any sort of physical practices.* I have trouble knowing if I am doing a movement correctly because my brain won’t always hold on to how it is supposed to feel or look.
In TKD, one of the ways you check for accuracy and consistency in your movements is if you finish your pattern on the same spot where you started it. When I was repeating my movements for the artists, I knew I was doing mostly ok because I was returning to the same spot at the end of each series. What really made me feel good, though, was hearing one of the artists say that she had been worried that it would be hard to capture each stage of my movements but my consistency made it pretty straightforward.
That comment was a delight but I also got something else out of repeating my pattern so many times in a row. Normally, when I practice, I don’t spend a lot of time on my first few patterns. I don’t have endless time to practice and I tend to focus on the patterns that challenge me the most.
For the artists’ purposes though, I needed to pick something that wasn’t especially complicated and that wouldn’t wear me out when repeating for the better part of an hour so I chose our very first pattern. Doing those fundamental movements over and over let me dig deeply into each one and pay very close attention to what my muscles were doing and how I could tweak and improve in even very small ways.**
It was almost a luxury to have nothing else to do in those moments but focus deeply on that narrow set of movements. And when I went to class that night, I could feel a slight improvement in all of my patterns so I will definitely be adding that sort of practice to my routine whenever I can.
Speaking of practice, one of the things that I did before each modeling session was to practice holding different poses and positions to ensure that I could do them for the right length of time. As a result of that practice, I discovered that, if I sit on an upended yoga block, I can hold a squat-like position for over 20 minutes.
When I asked the group if that was a good option for the 20 minute session, they were very excited about the idea of having the opportunity to draw that pose but concerned that I was going to hurt myself trying to do it.
Being able to pull off that 20 minute supported squat with ease felt a little like I was showing off but it felt more like a personal victory. I could do something kind of challenging AND be an interesting subject for drawing at the same time. Go me!
Peace of Mind
Before I went to my first session, my friend Elaine told me that she found her stint as a model to be very relaxing because she could just be still and breathe.
I didn’t think it would be the same for me because I figured that I would get distracted or that each pose would feel like it was taking forever. I even considered wearing earphones and listening to an audiobook while I posed but then I was afraid that would distract me in a different way.
However, I was surprised at how calm and relaxed I felt most of the time. A few of the poses felt long but overall, I mostly just focused on breathing slowly. Sometimes I counted my breaths in and out and other times I specifically chose something to think about – my latest pattern or something I wanted to write.
I ended up finishing each session with a feeling of satisfaction, the same kind of feeling I get from immersing myself into any project and getting into the flow of it.
Holding poses for so long was a physical and mental challenge but it was an enjoyable one. Being an artists’ model has shifted some important things for me with regards to my TKD practice and I look forward to being able to do it again sometime.
*For example, being told to repeat something until I can no longer hold good form is lost on me because I will never catch the point when I go from good form to not-so-good-form. I don’t know if this is an ADHD proprioception thing or if it is just a Christine thing but there it is.
**I imagine some of you will be reading this and thinking ‘That’s called practice, Christine. Smarten up.’ and you’re right to a certain extent. Thanks to my ADHD, I’ve really only begun to understand how to practice effectively in the past few years. Left to its own devices, my brain forgets that working on small pieces of a project (i.e. practicing) will lead to finishing the project (i.e. knowing a pattern.) Since I can’t finish learning everything about a pattern in one fell swoop, my brain will trick me into thinking that practicing is pointless. So there’s that. BUT, also, the kind of deep practice that I did in the session is a different sort of approach that I don’t often have time for.
I was already bored to tears with all the phrasing around burning fat/calories, trimming inches, and sculpting parts of our bodies. That stuff is so common that aside from the occasional eyeroll, I usually just skim over it when I see/hear it. I hate it but…meh.
However, as I have been seeking out more challenging videos lately I have been, to use the local vernacular, absolutely drove by the vocab that is supposed to motivate me.
I don’t want to ‘crush’ anything. Nor am I interested in a video that has the word ‘attack’ in the title. I don’t want to ‘destroy’ my abs or my glutes or my biceps. I don’t want to leave any of my muscles ‘screaming.’*
And despite being a martial artist who loves to practice punching and kicking, it bugs me that a lot of videos that incorporate those movements are called ‘body combat.’**
When I read titles with those words in them or when I hear the instructor use them during a workout, I don’t feel charged up and motivated, I feel tired.
And, shockingly, that is NOT what I am looking for when I’m exercising.
I want to be encouraged to work hard. I want to be told that I can do it. I want to be guided to forge ahead, to persist. I don’t want to feel like my exercise is supposed to be painful or punishing.
I thought we had left the whole ‘No Pain, No Gain’ thing behind but all of this language of destruction makes me feel like that attitude has snuck back into the party wearing different clothes and is waiting to see if we catch on.
And, as Tracy noted when I mentioned my irritation with these words, it’s frustrating and sad that we are all assumed to be in battle with our bodies all the time.
I am not fighting against my body in the quest to increase my fitness level.
My body and brain are working TOGETHER to move toward increased mobility and strength and a feeling of wellbeing. Any video titles or peppy encouragements that invite me to pit my brain against my body end up sapping my energy and leaving me feeling defeated.
I know that, culturally, many people’s bodies are seen as problematic and unruly – always being relentlessly human instead of a perfectly managed creation. This vocabulary thing ties into that, of course – an unruly body must be managed and defeated so it will look and behave in acceptable ways.
And I also know that the phrasing I am describing will seem like no big deal to some. In fact, I’m sure lots of people would tell me to just ignore it’ but I can’t do that.
I’m a writer and storyteller and I spend a long time making sure that the words I choose serve the purpose I want them to serves.
Words matter. Words have power. Words carry messages above and beyond their direct meaning.
And these destruction-themed words can drag all kinds of social expectations into my exercise time. My workouts are hard enough without also lifting cultural baggage at the same time.
How do you feel about these words? Do you find them motivating? Frustrating? Or do you not even notice them?
*If those words help you to power up, please feel free to completely ignore this post. I’m talking about my feelings and frustrations. not laying down a law about what can and cannot be said in a workout.
**The combat part I totally get but calling it body combat really makes it sound like you are fighting your own body. Ick.
Perfectionism is the thief of joy. At one level, we all know this. And yet, when it comes to fitness, we have a hard time not going back to that grade 6 gym class where we first learned that sport is about winning, and that athletic participation is for those who are good enough.
Sports is the home of the give-it-your-all slogans, like GO BIG OR STAY HOME or BRING YOUR A GAME. But sometimes it’s not like that. Sometimes it’s your C-game, you’re just showing up and doing your thing.
I often draw parallels between writing and fitness as practices, and I know others on the blog do the same. Hey, Christine! And when it comes to writing I am the Queen of the Scruffy First Draft. I am good, in group projects, of producing the thing that others rewrite. Finishing things, on my own, is another matter and we won’t talk about that here.
Go read the whole thing and come back. It’s great.
In my toolbox of joyful movement I have Muppet Fitness, that’s when you are an enthusiastic amateur cheerfully doing a thing and not caring about whether you’re any good at it.
But somedays, forget caring about talent and achievement, some days I don’t have joy either. It’s not joyful movement. It’s just movement. And that’s okay too.
We can reject athletic achievement as a sole focus of fitness and swap it for joyful movement, but we shouldn’t make joy normative either. I used to say, about exercise, “if you don’t love it, don’t do it” but that’s a thing I’ve since stopped saying. It’s okay just to do it and not love it.
Thanks to Alex I’m adding First Draft Fitness to my toolbox. Some days it’s okay just to go through the motions and do the thing because it’s the thing that you do.
How many kilometres do you fit in each week? How many can you fit in each week? Whatever that number is, it’s fewer than Czech cyclist Katka Rusà, who finished 2021 with a quite frankly ridiculous total of 50,105km, an average of almost 1,000km per week.
Somehow, she did all this – more than 2,000 hours of riding and 341,167m of elevation – while working full time as a proofreader for an online news company and had no days off. She also plays scrabble competitively.
To put that distance into perspective, Annemiek van Vleuten recorded the most distance of any professional woman on Strava and she only did 30,352km, the next behind her was Erica Magnaldi who did 25,471km.
In interviews about her incredible distance achievement, Rusà says, ‘Everyone’s day has 24 hours and there are seven days a week. We all have the same amount of time, it’s up to you what you do with it.’
You’ve seen that message before if you’re active in the fitness world at all.
Here’s the Beyoncé version of it.
It’s true in one sense that there are the same number of hours in a day for all of us. But it’s not true in another sense, given our various commitments and life circumstances we don’t all have the same 24 hours
Here’s Graeme Seabrook responding to the meme on Medium, “As I come more fully to terms with the way that my life and my schedule can best support my mental, physical, and emotional health — and the impact that has on my business I have had to focus constantly remind myself that comparison is the thief of joy. I don’t have 24 hours in my day. I don’t have 40 hours in my work week. I cannot simply “hustle harder” — well, not without ending up in a hospital. And when I add up all of the hours spent keeping myself sane and relatively healthy, all of the time and energy and boundaries and hard conversations and reading and talking and learning and therapy and journaling and meal planning and introspection and growth and tears and work that it takes for me to be a little more me every day I do wonder whether I am worth it. I do wish that I weren’t quite so expensive.”
In We don’t all have the same 24 hours, but I understand why some people believe it Alice Snape writes, “Can a single, working class mother-of-three, grafting away in a low-paid job to support her family really achieve as much in a day as somebody born into a well-off family who can afford to work in a part-time job? Who has better social connection and has been educated in a more favourable school? Can someone who is just trying to keep their head above water with minimal opportunities in a small town really be compared to someone who has exactly the same dreams, but for whom money has never been an issue? What if you have unconscious bias and racial gaslighting to contend with? As writer Evie Muir puts it: “I have the same 24 hours as Beyoncé but I spend most of them advocating for my own mental health against ableist, racist workplaces who make me cry and give me panic attacks. We are not the same.” When you ask those questions, the answer seems obvious.”
You’re all ready to go. You know what you want, it’s in alignment with your long term goals and values, and you’re feeling inspired–and then, you just can’t seem to make it stick. That new habit of going for a walk after work or fitting some fruit into breakfast most days or prepping weekly vegetables on Sunday night. You do it a few times, then life gets hard, and pffft, it’s gone.
In my humble, non-professional opinion, motivation isn’t the problem. Everyone’s feelings (motivation is just an emotion after all) will ebb and flow. People learn to stick to habits without constant motivation all the time. When was the last time you got really stoked to floss your teeth?! The problem is creating a routine that we remember to do that feels natural, so that there’s a low bar to cross for compliance.
With the first month of 2022 behind us, many may be losing steam when it comes to sticking to their New Year’s resolutions. Why? Because people either set unrealistic goals that leave them discouraged or fail to hold themselves accountable through tracking their progress, Lindsay Ogden, a NASM-certified personal trainer at the health club chain Life Time, tells Health.
Therefore, the key to setting yourself up for fitness goal success is devising them with the SMART method in mind.
So rather than most people exercising a moderate amount through daily movement and everyday exercise, we’ve got a few people who work out a lot while the majority of people get no exercise at all. ( Again, I say “we” because although these are US numbers, Canadians aren’t much better.)
Adding exercise to your daily routine is a common resolution entrepreneurs make and quickly abandon months after starting. Exercise improves mental health, boosts productivity and has countless physical benefits, but creating a new habit is hard. A lot of business owners won’t stick to their new workout plan as soon as life gets “busy.”
The hardest part of exercising regularly is forming that lasting habit. Once you establish a habit, exercise will become second nature or even something you look forward to each day. Here are some tips to help create an exercise routine you can carry with you beyond just the early stages.
One of the most common things I hear from people who don’t exercise regularly is, “I know I should do it, but I just don’t have motivation. How can I get motivated to work out?”
I understand how they feel, because that used to be me, too. It feels like a mountain to overcome. It feels like you must have something lacking inside. I used to think of athletes and fit people as some kind of unicorn, possessing innate magic and abilities that I just didn’t.
The truth is fit people don’t necessarily have more motivation or willpower than you. They have simply formed a regular habit of exercise. For some of us, this doesn’t come naturally and we may have to work at it, but it is absolutely within your reach.
That’s because exercise success isn’t dependent on motivation or willpower. Rather, it’s about habits.
Fitness has many visible and invisible costs, whether it’s for equipment, space, or training. Of course walking and running are free, but even then many folks purchase footwear specifically for those activities. (Throughout the world people run without shoes, but in Canada most need shoes, at least during below-freezing weather).
As I hiked with my friends a few weeks ago, and we chatted about topics like when to buy new hiking boots and where the money goes from the conservation area parking, I wondered to myself: What would happen if all basic fitness activities were free? Would it motivate people to exercise more, or at least try different sports and activities?How might paid-for exercise change people’s fitness habits?
In my thought experiment, I thought that exercise is free could mean that people have no-cost access to standard equipment, (like shoes and balls) and spaces (like courts) for the activities typically available in their climate and geographic location. Free also includes basic required training and/or certification for safety.
People would still have to get to and from activities at their own cost. To try to keep this idea from getting too fanciful, I figured that activities requiring expensive vehicles, like Formula 1 race cars or planes, wouldn’t count. Also excluded are the world’s most expensive mainstream sports.
How Free Fitness Might Change My Habits
I looked at this ranked list of exercise activities to see what I would do if cost was no longer a factor. Dodgeball, yes. More yoga, yes! I would try scuba diving, though I am afraid of getting “the bends.” I would definitely take dance lessons. I don’t think I’d be any good at fencing, but I would feel cool. I’ve never played cricket, but I’m not terrible at baseball, so I’d do that. I would maybe even try…cheerleading.
I feel like free fitness would change my fitness habits substantially. What would change for me is that I would diversify my activities. At the same time, I realized as I scanned the ranked list of exercise activities that many are yet untried by me not because of cost but because I don’t know where to pick up a fencing foil or who might play cricket with me. It’s time and opportunity, not affordability, that seems to be my main barriers.
It is critical to note that as a North American, middle-class, child-less white cis-woman I have the means and lifestyle to try most regular sports and fitness activities typically available in my geographic region. This is not the case for many.
Would Free Change Other People’s Habits?
I would like to think that with free access to all kinds of physical activities people’s physical and mental health would substantially improve. With a wider scope of activities in common, people could also connect more with each other. Free exercise would benefit communities and families with limited or no ability to pay for sports and fitness activities. Free could increase the diversity of folks engaging in those activities as well.
Logistics aside (i.e., who would pay for all this, how would it be coordinated), who would argue that making basic exercise free for everyone is a bad idea?
But when I consulted my friends enthusiastically about my daydream idea, they brought me back to reality by saying that free exercise would probably NOT dramatically change most people’s fitness habits. If humans are naturally energy-conserving creatures (read “lazy”), then even more readily available fitness options would not be enough to make everyone exercise, or diversify their exercise, more. Rather, free exercise would most benefit only those who already valued fitness and exercise.
Why Exercises Costs
Of course, free exercise is economically and logistically impossible. In many parts of the world, where basic necessities for remain unaffordable, free dodgeball or cheerleading is not a priority. And in reality there would have to be a hard line about where “free” ends–should the internet be free because so many exercise programs are available there?
Here in Canada, imagining how to make sports and physical activities free for everyone actually reinforced to me how deeply tied physical fitness is to money:
Exercise is a huge industry, and many people make their livings through exercise training, coaching, equipment sales, etc.
Pay-to-play gives some people real and perceived social status (e.g., celebrity-endorsed brand name gear).
Some people rely on the cost transaction, such as paying for a gym pass, to commit them to exercise.
It may be precisely the cost of a specialty sport–including the travel–that makes activities like heli-skiing or deep sea diving memorable and worthwhile.
Starting Small and With What You Value
Elan (the daydreamer) and her friends (the realists) did agree that the world might improve if we started small and everyone got at least a free pair of running shoes every few years. This idea to make basic exercise slightly more affordable could help with getting kids outside more and perhaps reduce people’s exercise-related foot and back ailments in later years.
But it seems that resources must go to not only making fitness more affordable but also continuing to shift how folks might better understand and value physical exercise activities in the first place.
And for my own situation, if I really wanted to try playing dodgeball or cricket, I just need a plan and the will to get started.
If all exercise were free, what would you try? Would your fitness habits change?
I was expecting it to take two months to see any improvement but I am delighted to say that despite a hectic January, with weird, rainy weather that included at least a week where I had to reduce my exercise instead of intensifying it, I have officially nudged myself a little closer to Good.
I started as Fair to Average and now, I am Average to Good. It’s a small nudge but a nudge all the same.
I shall award myself a gold star.
I know that this number isn’t a definitive description of my fitness level overall but it is measuring one aspect in a tangible way.
And, I improved the number in a short period of time by slightly increasing the intensity of my exercise.
This is encouraging and it bodes well for making bigger changes over time.
When I look at my heart rate numbers and see that a greater percentage of my workout is in my target range, it feels good.
Having my efforts recorded and made visible brings me back to try again the next day.
And, interestingly, I’m bringing the lessons from Adriene’s ‘Move’ series into this part of my fitness practice as well. I have been paying closer attention to how I feel when I am working a bit harder and to what movements make the biggest difference in my heart rate. Both of these things add a certain element of playfulness and experimentation to my exercise sessions, which I really appreciate.
Oh, and my additional efforts are also adding a little mystery to my practice. For no apparent reason, my Fitbit has started registering some of my walks as sessions on an elliptical machine (I don’t have an elliptical machine) and it has been registering my TKD practice as swimming. Go figure!
Anyway, I’ll post again next month to let you know whether I have moved another point to the good.
Speaking of good, here’s Khalee after one of our ‘elliptical’ walks.