Saturday, April 23, 2016

Because cake and nachos

Something has happened to me that I never thought would happen.

I like going to the gym.

As I write this I'm still in my sweaty gym clothes from this morning's workout. Pumpkin is sitting on my lap like it's no big thing that I probably (most definitely) smell. She just wants attention. I have actively loathed the notion of going to the gym since I had middle and high school P.E. classes. I'm sure that there are good intentions behind gym class in school; teaching physical fitness and health should help make students make smart life choices. However, I'm convinced no one really sat down and thought about gym class all the way through. High school is terrible enough; why did they have to throw gym shorts and running into the mix? I didn't burn my gym uniform but I really enjoyed throwing it away. I was reflecting on one of the most ridiculous moments from middle school P.E. recently as I wrote a new chapter for my novel. I had to take dance classes in middle school P.E. I don't know if anyone else did this or remembers this (if you went to middle school with me) but I distinctly remember learning to waltz under the instruction of our teacher, Coach Martino, and having to perform in a "dance competition." My group had to do the twist. I recall that we added a smooth move where we did the twist and changed positions on the dance floor (aka the Lake Braddock gym) at the same time. I don't know why this was deemed something that 7th graders needed in to do in gym class but it was.

I've always been what one would call an "indoor kid." My favorite activities include reading, staying indoors, being sarcastic, and listening to music. I played softball for exactly one summer in the third grade and never made it very far in gymnastics because I had the habit of spraining my ankle every other week. I sunburn easily (I like to refer to it as lobstering) so outdoor team sports and running were never in my future. When I was in college, I did go to the Rec Plex (our recreation center) for awhile to use the indoor track but I always felt judged by the athletes and sporty people who ran the track rather than walking it like me. And then I got super busy working, going to class, and creating lots of really great theater. The gym and I parted ways amicably and I didn't give it much thought for lots of years.

Two years ago I invested in my first Fitbit, stopped drinking soda (or pop or Coke - fill in with your regional descriptor of choice), and started tracking what I eat and drink. I pledged to drink 64 ounces of water a day (if not more) and go to the gym four days a week (now I'm at five days a week). I obsessively log everything on the Fitbit app. I casually drop my gym habits into daily conversation. I make smoothies and think about protein a lot. I find myself thinking about my day in the context of my treadmill time; when I have to be at work earlier for some reason I plan my gym time a little differently. I take my gym clothes with me when I travel and make sure I have time in the morning to get my 45 minute walk in. I've worn through a second pair of tennis shoes in less than a year; that used to take me ages to do.

I was thinking about all of this earlier this week while I was traveling for work. I had to go to the mothership in Cincinnati for some meetings and to run a training so I brought my gym stuff with me. I've done this pretty regularly on trips for the last year or so; this was a short trip and normally I wouldn't bother on a short trip because of the extra packing space I'd need for my gear. But I did bring it all and when I mentioned that I would be going to the gym in the morning, my co-worker was surprised but in a good way. She brings her ukulele; I bring my gym clothes. After this conversation it dawned on me: I finally figured out how to enjoy going to the gym and exercising.

Here are my observations/realizations:
  • Exercise should not be torture - you have to find something you love. I love walking and being indoors so using a treadmill or an elliptical (although not my favorite machine) makes sense for me. I still sweat and I feel it when I've pushed myself but I'm working out in a way that is comfortable and enjoyable for me. I'm in the process of looking for a quick arm workout for the days I don't go to the gym but feel like I should do something else.
  • Distracting myself while working out is key. Reading and listening to music are two activities I love that also have the distinction of being activities that cause me to lose track of time when I'm doing them. I combined both with my gym time and now I don't even notice how long I've been working out. It's not until the 5 minute cool down clicks on that I realize I'm almost done with my workout.
  • Sweat is awesome. It's good for your skin, gets the toxins out, and helps regulate your mood. I even read some articles on this from fitness websites and magazines - I went on fitness magazine websites. My skin looks great and I'm sure it's a combination of all the water I drink and the sweat. 
  • Finding the right work out time makes all the difference. When I first started walking, I would go in the evening after work. Do you know how easy it is to talk yourself out of going to the gym after a long day at work? It's easier than easy so I switched to mornings. I naturally get up at 6 am anyway so that's my gym time. I think it's a perfect way to start my day.
  • I like cake and nachos. I would rather eat nachos than drink a sugary, high calorie coffee beverage because nachos are delicious and are one more example of why cheese is a perfect food. I don't feel guilty about eating nachos anymore. Why? Because I'm active and I balance nachos with healthier choices. Tracking food has made me aware of what I need to eat and how much - it's not about denying myself things I enjoy. It's about enjoying them in appropriate portions.
  • Accountability can't be understated. I know everyone has their own version of accountability: a workout buddy, your preferred fitness tracker or app, being able to wear those jeans you really love but aren't quite comfortable. For me, it's Fitbit. I compete with myself not with others on Fitibit (even though I do have friends on the app and I see where they are in the daily totals). Fitbit keeps me honest and is always there. I want to track my steps and log my food. I like the badges. I like the encouragement that isn't coming from an actual person.
  • Which brings me to my last realization: this is for ME. When I was younger I probably worked out on occasion or tried to eat healthier because that's what you do when you want to be attractive to other people. Fitness and being healthy was about what others thought of me not what I thought of myself. Here's the thing: I legitimately don't care what people think about the way I look anymore. If they have a problem with my physical being, that's their issue not mine. I feel good, I look good, and it's all for me. 
I have a great sense of accomplishment with my walking especially given the fact that I have walked the distance of the March of the Penguins (70 miles), the Monarch butterfly migration (2500 miles, and my favorite the length of New Zealand (990 miles). As Fitbit so helpfully told me via email, I have walked the distance from the Shire to Mordor. If that doesn't make me want to walk more I don't know what will.

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