Let's start by saying it's complicated. As a child and teenager, I was both a gymnast and a cheerleader. Daily practices and workouts were part of my sport, so I never thought twice about it. I thrived on meeting up with my fellow cheerleaders after school to perfect our pyramids and routines for both high school football and basketball games as well as cheer competitions. It never felt like work, mostly because there was a social aspect to it and I loved the sports I was doing. But once I got to college, all bets were off, and having a regular fitness routine has been something I've struggled with ever since.
In college, exercise fell low on my list of priorities behind studying, socializing, and of course, eating. The abundance of options in the dining halls were limitless, and I was no stranger to going back for seconds and thirds. Hey, my parents were paying for the meal plan, so why not get their money's worth, right? My sedentary lifestyle combined with the over-eating made for a dangerous combination. By the time I got home for Thanksgiving break and had a chance to weigh myself for the first time since I'd left for college, I found that I had gained the "Freshman 15" and then some.
The easiest option, of course, was to become more mindful about food rather than exercise. I ate less, and by Christmas break, I had shed almost all of the weight I had gained. But throughout my college years, my weight would go up and down, and my exercise habits didn't improve.
When I landed my first full-time job out of college, I was so busy working to prove myself by putting in long hours and going the extra mile that I was too exhausted at the end of the day to exercise. I can remember a handful of times that I walked after work during the spring months, but the pollen bothered me, and that was my solid excuse to nip exercise in the bud.
It wasn't until I was 31 that I joined a gym for the first time, but I still wasn't feeling it. Exercising was a chore. I had to get dressed and pack a bag for the gym. Then I had to motivate myself to steer my car in that direction after work rather than head to happy hour with my work pals. It all seemed like too much effort. I tried a different approach by setting my alarm for early in the morning and hitting the gym before work. This was successful for about a month, until boredom set in.
I was really good about getting back in shape after both my daughters were born, but that too was temporary, and once the baby weight was lost, I aborted my exercise plans. Every six months, I would revisit joining a gym, but I always had an excuse (too much money, not enough time, too busy with the kids). The usual. If you haven't used those excuses for yourself, I'm sure you've heard them from a friend.
And then several years ago, I landed in the hospital with symptoms that pointed to anxiety. I was burning the candle at both ends and running myself ragged without a thought of taking care of ME. I was placed under the care of a cardiologist who evaluated my lifestyle and analyzed my medical tests. Luckily for me, there was no major medical emergency. It was nothing that couldn't be fixed with a few necessary changes to my lifestyle starting with exercise.
EXERCISE? But I thought I was healthy. Turns out I wasn't as healthy as I perceived myself to be. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The first order of business was to get my heart rate up to 130 beats per minute for at least 4 times per week. Since my diet wasn't poor, exercise was my greatest hope for reversing my two conditions, which are risk factors for heart disease.
Since then my exercise habits have drastically improved. But I still go through periods where exercise is sporadic at best. I don't beat myself up over it, but rather let it pass and know that motivation will return. It always does. Now that I am in my 40s, I realize that exercise has a greater effect on your overall health and well being than primarily being a mechanism for losing weight. I no longer see exercise and fitness as a chore. I view it as nourishment for my mind and body. Just as I need to eat everyday, I need to include some form of fitness into my life everyday, even if it's a session of light weights or a brisk 10 minute walk.
The key has been finding activities that I thoroughly enjoy and that keep me motivated and interested. For me, the two activities I enjoy most are yoga and walking. I never become bored with either of them, and there are always new routines and classes to keep it fresh. Once you find what you love, you'll never see fitness as a chore, and you'll look forward to making it a part of your everyday routine.