fitness

Spring is my Time for Walking Challenges

Some people start fitness challenges in September, the start of the school year that somehow feels like the real start of the year to many of us. Others go with the more traditional January start. It appears I like April. I wrote about it last year.

This year my workplace is doing an activity challenge for the month. It doesn’t have to be walking, but that happens to fit with another challenge I’m also doing. I like the fact that getting enough sleep and drinking plenty of water are also goals.

The other challenge is with one of my medieval groups, where we are aiming to walk 183 miles by the end of May. Why 183 miles? I have no idea! There is probably a very logical reason that I have forgotten, or missed completely in my enthusiasm to join up. Whatever.

The challenge works out to about 5 km a day for me. I used to do 10 km walks regularly, but haven’t done one in at least 15 years.

Sometimes I go out late in the evening, and catch the light near dusk. I am lucky enough to live near two large rivers, so there is always plenty to see.

Lights reflecting on the Rideau River, with a bridge and Highrisers in the background.
The Ottawa River where it is joined by the Gatineau River, seen through a tangle of trees.

I feel blessed to live in a walkable part of the city, with a real variety of landscapes.

The Macon Marsh, a small protected wetland just off a busy street. It’s mostly brown now, but the tall grasses beyond the water were filled with red-winged blackbirds.
A yard with several colourful bird houses, with apartment blocks in the background.

I don’t do 5 km absolutely every day, but I am getting the distance done each week. My walks are getting longer, I am going into the office as an excuse to knock off an easy 6 km, and on Easter weekend I walked for 10.6 km.

Best of all, the chronic hip flexor pain is gone. Apparently I needed to get out of my chair a lot more than I realized. And I am learning to enjoy my own company, just wandering and admiring the views.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa.

fitness · goals · health · motivation

Small Victory for Christine H

Remember a few weeks ago when I was aiming to be better than average?

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.

A screen capture of a report from a fitness monitor. The background is blue and there is a multicoloured bar at the bottom indicating Cardio Fitness. The score is 28-32, average to good.
A screen capture of a report from my Fitbit. The background is blue and there is a multicoloured bar at the bottom indicating Cardio Fitness with numbers ranging from 24.6-39.5. My score is 28-32, which is designated as average to good for my age and fitness level.

I started as Fair to Average and now, I am Average to Good. It’s a small nudge but a nudge all the same.

VICTORY!

I shall award myself a gold star.

A gif of a cartoon drawing of a gold star with white trim that jumps into the air.

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.

A light haired dog sleeping on a green, grey, and black bedspread.
Image description: Khalee, my light-haired dog is sleeping on my bed with her paw up near her face. She looks very relaxed. My bed is covered in a black, grey, and green bedspread and you can also see a blue blanket by Khalee’s head. In the foreground on the left, you can see a mug with a gnome on it on my bedside table.

fitness

The Year of Tiny Pleasures

A friend has a daily goal of 15 minutes of movement, so I thought she might enjoy tracking her efforts as part of the Facebook group 222 workouts in 2022. She wrote back that she didn’t think it would be a good fit because people who do 10k hikes and own Peloton bikes would not be interested in her 15 minutes of stretching or struggles with a 20 minute dance routine of warmups and isolation exercises.

My response to her original post this was to share this cartoon, and the comments below it.

Sam also shared this cartoon, but it is too good not to use again.

“If you read all the posts, there are plenty who are doing 30 minutes of yoga (I am doing that series and it is a lot of just sitting and breathing). But many of them won’t finish the 30 day series. I know I didn’t finish until about May last year. Late last year there were a lot of “I took my elderly dog for a slow shuffle” posts, and through most of the year many of us posted #slmsmph (stupid little walk for my stupid mental and physical health). The thing is, it doesn’t matter what you do, except to you. The rest of us are just there to be cheerleaders. There are weight training, indoor cycling and gymnastics workout posts that are irrelevant to my interests and abilities. But I like to look at the pictures, especially when people go outside to do a walk or bike ride. Having it pop up in my feed every day helps me remember I want to move, even if it is just to walk to the park and back (takes me about 20 minutes).”

She wasn’t convinced, but that’s okay. The year of tiny pleasures is also about doing what works for you.

My tiny pleasures right now are all things that don’t require me to leave the house because it is too cold. I am focusing on my on-line ballet classes, with some yoga offered by a work colleague, and the occasional gentle movement class with a local studio. I have abandoned that 30 day yoga challenge already.

As soon as it gets a little warmer, I look forward to getting outside with friends. A short walk with some duck watching, as I did with my buddy April recently, was a joyous hour of connecting with someone I haven’t seen in too long. That shared time was more precious than the thing we did (though 5km on a frosty day was nothing to sneeze at).

Diane in a brown furry coat and red hat, with April in a black coat, green hat and black balaclava

I am holding these two images close to my heart for 2022. The first reminds me that not every fitness activity needs to be exciting or a big challenge. The second reminds me that the best part about being active that I get to spend time with friends.

2022 isn’t shaping up to be a great year on the global scale, but I intend to make it as pleasurable as possible at my tiny scale. I will make opportunities to connect in person for walks or outdoor swims. I will continue to draw inspiration from my virtual friends at 222 workouts. And I will garden (good workout, good for the planet, good way to spend time with friends and neighbours). Mostly I will grow food, but I will also plant some flowers.

habits · motivation · planning · self care

Go Team! January 2: Go Easy

Hello Team!

Today, I’d like to invite you to go easy on yourself.

We live with a cultural narrative that tells us to Go Big or Go Home, one that stresses that we have to push, push, push, and be tough and disciplined, and work hard all the time.

I vote no.

There can be a time and a place for all of those sorts of feelings and that type of effort but the first days of building a new habit is definitely not that time or place.

This is a time to be gentle with yourself, to work with the feelings of reluctance and discomfort that often surround making any sort of change.

After all, our brains like to stick with established routines – those routines use less brainpower, less energy, and they feel more efficient – and introducing new habits will require work.

That’s why we need to go easy.

 a GIF of three light-green plush peas with smiling faces jumping excitedly in a zippe​red felt pod
I couldn’t resist how cute these peas were in their wee pod. Image description: a GIF of three light-green plush peas with smiling faces jumping excitedly in a zippered felt pod.

We need to know that we might start later than we intended or that we might miss some days in our plan.

We need to acknowledge that we will have ups and downs in the process of developing our new habits. We need to recognize that things going awry doesn’t mean we have failed, it means we are following a perfectly normal pattern of developing a new habit.

If you are in the honeymoon phase of your new habit, when everything is going smoothly, this may seem like a weird time to bring all of this up, but I think it’s useful to consider that there will be challenges ahead. Maybe you’ll want to make some encouraging notes for your future self about how you feel right now or about how you could choose a streamlined version of your habit to use on a challenging day.

If you are still struggling to get started, then going easy is definitely going to help. I know that in the past, I have set a date to start something new but when that day arrived, something was in my way – a work project, a migraine, a missing piece for the routine- and I didn’t start the way I meant to. Sometimes, I abandoned the plan right there and then because I only had one vision of my new habit – things going perfectly – and I didn’t know how to work with anything less. Other times, I started anyway but the plan felt somehow tainted because I hadn’t managed to start as I had planned.*

GIF of Kermit the Frog looking upset. Text beneath reads ‘Mistakes were made.’
I know, Kermit, this kind of thing happens to me on the regular. Image description: a GIF of Kermit the Frog from The Muppets shaking his head with his hand over his snout (do frogs have snouts?) White text beneath reads ‘Mistakes were made.’

Instead of planning to be our most perfect selves on our most perfect day, it would be better for us to go easy. Learning to take small steps and to do things like creating a version of our new habit that we can do even on the hardest of days will serve us better in the long run.

I know that we all approach new habits in different ways. Some of us like to start with a huge workout or a long meditation and some of us like to work our way up. And, obviously, I want you to do what works best for you. However, it’s a good idea for us to all have a ‘go easy’ plan to use on days when we struggle.

On any given day, go easy might mean doing a low-key version of our plan or it might mean taking a break, but going easy will never be a sign of failure. It’s a sign of self-compassion. It’s us recognizing that we are human and that our days will vary. Being prepared to for all kinds of days and all kinds of energy levels will help us stick with our new habits until they become routine.

And now, since I like to have an example as an anchor, here’s how my yoga plan for this month will go.

I’m signed up for Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Day ‘Move’ program for January but I am going to do it on my own terms. Ideally, I will do the video for a given day at 10pm. However, there will no doubt be days when I will have a family obligation or an online meeting with someone in a different time zone at 10pm. On those days, I will plan to do the video at 2pm. BUT, if that doesn’t work, I will do a very short practice on my own and I have decided that even one asana will count as a practice. So, even on my most difficult day, I can lie on the floor in Savasana (corpse pose) for couple of minutes and consider my yoga done for the day.

When you are building a habit, having what I call a placeholder practice – like me doing Savasana – is an important way to go easy while still keeping your momentum.

You aren’t slacking off, you aren’t letting yourself off the hook, you are being responsive to your own needs in the moment.

Your efforts count, whether you are meditating for an hour or a minute. Everything you do to build your habit matters, whether you do one squat or a hundred. Trust yourself to know whether you need to go easy or push hard.

And here’s your gold star for today’s efforts – even if the only thing you can manage today is reading this post – or even part of it, there are a lot of words up there!

A gold star ornament hanging against a dark green wall.
Image description: a gold star ornament against a dark green wall. The star is made from overlaid gold-coloured wires so it appears to be woven or made from wicker.

*This might be a being-too-literal-sometimes ADHD thing or it might just be a being-too-literal-sometimes Christine thing but I have always hated the sayings ‘Start as you mean to go on.’ and ‘Start as you mean to finish.’ I understand that the spirit those sayings are trying to foster but, to me, they always seemed impossible. How am I supposed to know at the beginning how things are going to go later on? What about if I start strong and can’t sustain it? What about if I don’t have enough information at the beginning to know how things need to be later? This is more evidence of my expert-level overthinking.

fitness

400!

Almost two years ago, I joined in the 220 workouts in 2020 challenge that fellow bloggers were doing on Facebook. I liked it because I could set my own rules for what counted as a workout. But it was also a real challenge because I had decided that my usual commute to the office didn’t count, and I was a bit of a weekend warrior except for that daily bike ride or walk.

Because of the COVID lockdowns, even that weekday commute was gone, while my dance studio, the swimming pool, and the stable where I board my horse were all closed. For several months, I had to improvise.

I started to go for walks and ride my bicycle to do errands (they had to be longer than my usual work commute to count). I found that I could sometimes sneak in a quick swim at the nearby pond at lunchtime. I discovered Yoga with Adriene and other Facebook Live or Zoom classes.

By the end of 2020, I had developed enough of a routine that I achieved those 220 workouts. A big part of that was checking in daily to see what everyone else was doing. I liked seeing a little bit of the lives of a diverse group of women – their dogs, watching them take on weightlifting or gymnastics challenges I would never dream of, sympathizing on the days when getting out of the house for a stupid little walk was a big deal.

Grumpy looking bald eagle stomping through the water, on his stupid little walk for his stupid mental and physical health.

In June of this year, Tracy said she was done with counting. Not me. I am a list maker and a tracker of many things. That daily accountability check has encouraged me to take advantage of yoga sessions a colleague offers twice a week, to schedule walks with friends, and to try new activities so that I move almost every day.

Now, after almost two years, the habit has become sufficiently ingrained that I get twitchy if I am inactive for too long. Unlike Tracy, I am not confident I could keep it up without some sort of tracking. If that fitness group were to disappear, I would keep on tracking, even if it is just a list in my phone.

This week, I celebrated completing 400 workouts. They weren’t all great workouts and I don’t think I look more fit. It feels good to have achieved that number. I am stronger, both physically and in my mental ability to keep doing things regularly. My sister says my swimming selfies are boring because I have so many and they are all basically the same. That’s a sign of a successful routine.

Me in a blue swim cap and goggles, with a pond and trees in the background.

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

fitness · motivation · rest · self care · time

Go Team: Adjust Accordingly

Here in Canada, most of us had a long weekend and we’re starting our week on Tuesday instead of Monday.

We had an unusual Monday and now we are heading into a short work week.

Image description: a GIF of a stick person who is rapidly alternating between lying on their bed and jumping ​up to sit at their computer and work while an analog clock spins rapidly on the wall above.
I hate how short weeks can end up feeling like this. Image description: a GIF of a stick person who is rapidly alternating between lying on their bed and jumping up to sit at their computer and work while an analog clock spins rapidly on the wall above.

How many of us have adjusted our schedules and expectations accordingly?

It’s a trap I fall into on the regular – my schedule or capacity* is altered in some way and yet I still try to do as much work/keep the same routine/fit AllOfTheThings in despite having less time or less energy.

​. Image description: a GIF of a black cat with white paws that walks under a cardboard box that is being held up with a stick. The cat bats the stick with its paw and the box falls down and traps the cat beneath.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, you accidentally make things worse for yourself. Image description: a GIF of a black cat with white paws that walks under a cardboard box that is being held up with a stick. The cat bats the stick with its paw and the box falls down and traps the cat beneath.

This happens to me most often when I’m not paying close attention, when I forget to take stock of how much I am trying to fit into my schedule. During short weeks like this, I’m especially prone to it.

Trying to cram the same amount of stuff into a smaller container is a direct route to extra stress and frustration, and to a persistent feeling of ‘not measuring up.’

And it doesn’t matter if the ‘stuff’ you are trying to cram in is work-related, fitness-related, or personal. The issue is that we have set expectations that are way too high for us to meet.

In this case, it’s about time and about routines, but a mismatch of expectations and capacity about any goals or plans that we have set for ourselves can lead to those same feelings.

So, Team, whether you are heading into a short week, or an ordinary one, and whether your expectations are around your work, your workouts, or about anything else, I’m inviting you to pause for a moment and think about whether they match your capacity.

If there’s a mismatch, please don’t be hard on yourself.

We all fall into that trap sometimes.

Instead, why not reevaluate your time and your expectations and adjust accordingly?

Your brain will thank you.

As always, I’d like to offer your gold star for your efforts. In fact, here’s a whole bunch of gold stars – adjusting your expectations will take a lot of little efforts over and over so it makes sense to offer you a lot of little gold stars in recognition of those efforts.

Image description: hundreds of small shiny gold stars ‘shooting’ toward the screen against a black background.​
Image description: hundreds of small shiny gold stars ‘shooting’ toward the screen against a black background.

*For example, if I’m feeling sick or if I have slept poorly.

fitness · motivation

Go Team: Small Efforts Count

Yesterday, Sam reminded us of the benefits of Failing Small – making sure that we are keeping perspective when things go wrong.

I’d like to build on that and remind us all that even the smallest positive efforts count.

So, maybe you can’t do the full workout you had planned but you *can* do a few pushups and squats.

That counts.

Perhaps your plan for a home yoga session fell through because you’re tired and all you can do is lie on your mat for a few minutes.

That counts.

Or if you are trying to get to bed early, drink more water, or build a meditation practice and you do anything that inches you forward towards those goals.

That all counts.

Your fitness and wellness don’t just come from epic workouts or hour-long meditations. They are also created rep by rep and breath by breath.

Even your smallest efforts will add up.

Consistent small efforts create momentum.

Any wellness effort you make helps you to create room in your brain start thinking of yourself as ‘someone who exercises’ or as ‘someone who meditates.’ – a very valuable mindset for creating new habits.

So, while you are taking Sam’s advice to keep your mistakes in perspective, also give yourself some room to recognize the value of even the smallest success.

PS: Here’s a gold star for your efforts, big and small.

Image description: a GIF of a gold star against a black background. The middle of the star is twinkling with white light.​
Image description: a GIF of a gold star against a black background. The middle of the star is twinkling with white light.
fitness · habits · motivation

Go Team: Find A Win And Celebrate It

So, Team, we’re almost at the end of August and I think it’s time to remind ourselves of some wins from the year so far.

Whether your fitness/wellness plans have been going exactly as you thought they would or whether you are now following a whole different path than you anticipated, you have done a lot of things right.

I’d like you to make a list of those things, big or small, and find a way to acknowledge and celebrate them.

Perhaps you’ve accomplished a specific goal or met a certain fitness target.

Maybe you have found more ways to fit rest into your day.

Or you’ve talked yourself into going for a walk more often.

Perhaps you’ve meditated or done yoga or done some canoeing.

Or maybe you’ve tried stretching your neck while waiting for webpages to load.

The size of the win doesn’t matter. The fact that you have deliberately worked to improve your own well-being does, and it is worthy of celebration.

Please tell me about your wins in the comments and I will celebrate with you.

Here’s a gold star for your efforts!

A gold-coloured star-shaped metal decoration hangs on a light green painted wall.​
This is the gold star that hangs above my computer monitor to remind me to celebrate my efforts. Image Description: A gold-coloured star-shaped metal decoration hangs on a light green painted wall.
fitness · habits · motivation · planning

Go Team – June 15: Re-evaluate, Revise, Reframe

That’s a lot of ‘Re’ for one title, but let’s forge ahead.

Here we are in June, well into year two of ‘Everything is just a bit strange, isn’t it?’ and I’m hoping you’ll pause, take a breath, and reconsider your fitness/wellness plans and goals for the year. (There was another ‘re’ in that sentence, there is no escape from them!)

Maybe everything is going exactly as you planned, things are humming along, and you are wondering why I am even suggesting this.

If that’s the case for you, keep rocking it and here are some gold stars for your hard work: ⭐️🌟⭐️🌟⭐️🌟⭐️

But, if you are like me and this year has been all fits and starts with your fitness/wellness goals, let’s get into all of those ‘Re’ words above.

Re-evaluate

When you started the year you imagined things were going to go a certain way. You combined that imagined future with the facts you had and made plans based on that.

Now that we are part way through June, you have more information about your schedule, your preferences, and your capacity.

Use that information to reevaluate the goals and plans you made in January.

Consciously decide whether you are going to continue or if you are going to choose a different path. (Sometimes, I will hold on to an old plan for ages, even though I am doing nothing with it, because I keep thinking I will get back to it. Consciously choosing NOT to do it is always a relief.)

Revise

Your plans for fitness and wellness are for YOU, not for anyone else. And only you can decide if something is working for you.

You don’t have to follow the plan exactly as you set it out at the first part of the year. You can choose to revise it at any time to meet your current needs.

If the big ideas you had in January, whatever they were, still suit you but the details didn’t work out, change the details.

If the big ideas no longer suit you, ditch them and try something else.

Reframe

One of the tricky things about making goals and plans is that we can be very hard on ourselves if they don’t work out the way that we hoped they would.

That brings us to our third Re: reframe.

Please, please, please, do not frame your efforts over the past months in terms of failure.

For most of us, that will not be a valuable approach.

I’m not suggesting that you pretend everything is perfect nor am I suggesting a falsely positive approach.

Instead, I invite you to acknowledge that your initial plan wasn’t possible and then reframe your results in terms of effort or knowledge instead of failure to meet a plan.

So, instead of some self-defeating statement about failing to do daily yoga, say something like: “I couldn’t do yoga daily the way I planned instead I got on the mat once a week and really enjoyed it.”

Or, instead of being harsh about your running progress, try something like: “I’m not ready to run in a race and that’s ok, I have learned a lot about how to pace myself with my training and I can run with more ease than I could in January.”

Looking at your efforts in this way will keep you from feeling defeated and help you take a realistic view of where you are with your fitness plans.

Go Team

So, as we move into the second half of the year, I hope you are being kind to yourself about your efforts, your capacity, and your plans.

You can take the goals you set in January and re-evaluate, revise, and reframe them until your plan for the rest of the year serves you best.

Fitness isn’t all or nothing, it’s a process. We need to acknowledge and celebrate our efforts and be kind to ourselves in the process.

PS – Here’s your gold star for your hard work, no matter what form that work is taking for you right now.

GIF of a gold star agains a black background, the animation adds white lines to make it seem shinier.
So shiny! image description: a GIF of a gold star against a black background. The animation adds a white lines to the star to make it seem shinier.

fitness · habits · motivation

Go Team! March 16: Encouragement Boost – You’re doing GREAT.

It feels like far longer than 6 weeks since I finished my series of ‘Go Team!’ posts so it is definitely time for a little encouragement boost.

So, let me jump right to the good stuff:

You are doing great and I am proud of your efforts.

It doesn’t matter if you have been pushing your physical limits every day or if you are just barely squeezing in a few extra steps here and there (which, frankly, *is* pushing your limits, just in a different way!), you are doing what you can, when you can, and it all counts.

Your efforts matter. Either way.

And, yes, I understand that maybe you haven’t followed the plan that you meant to follow.

Maybe you had days when you *could* have exercised but you didn’t.

Maybe you haven’t been giving it your all, or even your ‘some.’

That’s okay and you’re okay.

If you keep coming back and doing what you can to take care of your body – whatever that phrase means to you – you are doing well.

You don’t have to have a perfect record for exercise.

You don’t have anything to prove.

You can keep going, you can start over, you can try again.

You get a lifetime of chances to find the type of movement that makes you feel most like yourself.

Just please be kind to yourself about the whole messy process.

Being hard on yourself gets you nowhere. Being kind to yourself leads to progress AND you get to feel good along the way.

Here’s your gold star for today – a super-deluxe-over-the-top gold sparkler star for your spectacular self.

Image description: a gold sparkler (hand-held firework) is emitting star shapes in all directions.​
I love these sparklers – it’s like owning a shooting star! Image description: a gold sparkler (hand-held firework) is emitting star shapes in all directions.