Maybe you have the same excuses I did for why I didn’t have time to work out regularly.
You work full-time while raising a family and surviving the everyday stresses of life. Or you had a baby and didn’t yet “bounce back,” even though the expectation that our postpartum shape should be the same as our pre-baby body is ridiculous. Or you’re tired and busy and unmotivated, and did I mention tired?
Yeah, me too.
But a month ago I decided to return to regular exercise. Before I had my now 2-year-old daughter, I went to spin class several days a week, I religiously walked 10,000 steps a day, and I even did strength training here and there. A decade ago (yeah, a lifetime ago), I even completed the Nike Women’s Half-Marathon.
But somewhere in the past three years, I fell out of my routine exercise rhythm. First, my high-risk IVF pregnancy made vigorous exercise a no-no. Then first-time parenthood shifted my focus. Then balancing raising a small child with a full-time job winnowed the little time I once had for myself to not much at all.
Yet, as I watch my daughter grow and run at alarming and breathtaking speeds, I decided I needed to quit making excuses. I needed to figure out a way to make time for exercise so I could not only keep up with my sweet and energetic child but I could also keep up with what I want to accomplish in the second half of my life–to keep regular exercise as a centering weekly practice that helps me shed weight, strengthen my heart, banish stress, and press the endorphin reset button so I literally feel better in the body I’m in.
So, what was the catalyst that got me back to spin class several times a week during the past four weeks?
Honestly, watching new co-workers prioritize their time by working out during lunch breaks, taking afternoon walks, and inserting exercise in whenever they could, from taking the stairs to parking just a little bit farther away from the office.
So, if you’re like me, tired and wondering how on earth you’re going to squeeze another moment out of your day to take care of yourself, let me share some tips for how to rekindle a lapsed exerciser into a devout fitness buff (note: I’m nowhere near the latter, but that’s the great part of beginning a new habit or practice–we all have to start somewhere).
1. Find Physical Activity You Enjoy and Ease Back Into It
As the Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu wrote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Don’t worry about getting back to doing a strict exercise regimen three or four times a week yet. Just begin with one visit to the gym, one hike in the woods, or one fitness class you enjoyed going to before exercise fell off your to-do list. Some folks are solitary exercisers and others prefer the social nature of group exercise. So, try to choose activities that make it easier for you to say “yes!” than to procrastinate and avoid. And schedule your exercise as you would an important appointment for work, friends and family, or anyone whose time you value. Put your exercise appointments into your calendar and protect your time to reengage with movement and yourself.
2. Define Your Goals for Exercising
Is your goal to get 10,000 steps a day? To attend two spin classes a week and then in a few months three classes a week? To finish a 5k race with a friend? All of these fitness goals are S.M.A.R.T. goals–specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Nebulous fitness goals such as “feel better,” while likely true and important, are harder to account for. Help yourself become committed to physical activity by being specific about what you hope to get out of the experience.
3. Embrace the “Exercise Effect”
Exercise is, of course, wonderful for physical health, but perhaps what we sometimes underestimate is how powerful exercise is for our mental health. As Michael Otto, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Boston University, tells the American Psychological Association, “The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong. Usually, within five minutes after moderate exercise, you get a mood-enhancement effect.”
For anyone working hard to prevent or combat diabetes burnout, taking care of our mental and physical health helps us have better outcomes for diabetes management. Moreover, you don’t have to wait forever for the benefits of physical activity to take hold. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report:
A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity will reduce blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, improve sleep, reduce anxiety symptoms, and improve cognition on the day that it is performed. Most of these improvements become even larger with the regular performance of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Other benefits, such as disease risk reduction and physical function, accrue within days to weeks after adopting a new physical activity routine.
4. Don’t See Exercise as an All-or-Nothing Practice
Perhaps one of the reasons I became a lapsed exerciser was my black-and-white thinking. Instead of beating myself up for not being as routine an exerciser as I was before I had a child, perhaps if I viewed my hiatus as just that–a pause in practice instead of a shameful fall from physical fitness–I would have kept at my fitness levels until I returned to a pace and schedule that felt right for me and my body. For exercise to become a habit yet again, we have to give ourselves two to three months of practice. So, if you’re having a tough week, allow yourself some grace, but don’t give up your exercise habit when life is wild. Remind yourself of the short-term and long-term benefits of exercising and who you’re exercising for. When you fall out of step, just return. No judgment and certainly no shame; just an awareness that getting back in the saddle requires a willingness to keep trying, no matter what life throws at us.
Have you had a time in your life where you fell out of an exercise habit? What did you do to return to more regular physical activity? What do you plan on doing next to get moving more in the coming weeks?
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