Archive | April, 2013

Found Exercise

18 Apr

“Find what you love, and do it.” Sounds like just some cheesy slogan on a poster hanging in a high school career counselor’s office, complete with a visual of some hiker on top of a mountain. While it’s a laudable professional goal, few of us actually get to earn our money doing something we love. But this cliché slogan can be redeemed from its relative futility, because it is also perhaps the most oft-repeated exercise advice. In this case, however, it’s true and reasonable and attainable.

A long-term commitment to exercise requires a lot of experimentation, repeated kicking of the tires, in order to find what feels good to you, today. Typically, it may not have anything to do with what feels good to you tomorrow. So it’s important to have a lot of tools in your proverbial belt. And while variety is the key, one thing needs to be consistent: find what you love, and do it.

Let me be clear what I mean by this. I’m not talking about going into a gym, trying a few grueling things, and deciding what you can tolerate, what is bearable. This isn’t about choosing a chest press over a lateral tricep press. It’s not about deciding on crunches instead of push-ups…unless you actually enjoy chest presses and crunches, in which case, knock yourself out. Because while some of us may develop a love for gyms and weight lifting and repetative cardio, many of us never do. And that’s okay, because there’s a whole world of possibilities out there.

I, personally, love a good, old-fashioned skull crusher. But you know what I love more? Roller skating. There. I said it. Not an official “exercise,” not anything the bodybuilders at my gym would recognize as a viable alternative to a leg press or time on a rowing machine. But my experience tells me that it elevates my heart rate for long stretches of time, it works my quads like gang-busters, it forces my balance to take center stage, and I laugh like a fool while I’m doing it. In other words, I am getting great physical benefit while actually having fun! Find what you love, and do it.

I like to call this type of thing Found Exercise. Much like found art, found exercise is a happy accident or a coincidence. Or maybe it’s an activity that you deliberately set out to do because it’s fun, and then you get the added benefit of increased fitness. Roller skating is a great example. So is trampolining, even bowling. (My motto: the more ridiculous, the better!) Of course there are things like tennis and softball and football and soccer. But there’s also less obvious things, like gardening and water balloon fights and even shopping! Does it elevate your heart rate for 20 minutes at a stretch? Do you feel your muscles engage and maybe even burn? Do you find yourself feeling muscle fatigue the next day? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then congratulations – you have just exercised! You found what you loved, and you did it.

Keep doing it,
Lily-Rygh Glen

Day 1

6 Apr

I met Ann a couple of months ago.  She was walking around the gym with this completely bewildered look on her face.  Her eyebrows were crunched up and she was obviously concentrating on something, yet she wasn’t looking at anything specific.  I recognized that face immediately: it is the face of “this is my first time at the gym and while I want quite desperately to know what to do with all this stuff, the truth is I have no earthly idea.”  I immediately took pity, introduced myself, and offered to show her around the gym.  I lead her through a mini-workout that day, and the relief on her face was immediate and palpable.   She thanked me profusely and then I left.

I hadn’t seen her since that first encounter, but because my schedule changes all the time, I didn’t think anything of it; I assumed she was coming to the gym when I wasn’t there.  Then I saw her yesterday.  She was warming up on the treadmill and immediately gave me this big, radiant smile.  She victoriously exclaimed, “I’m here!”  She went on to explain that since that first day we met, she hadn’t been back to the gym at all.  “I really wanted to come, but my depression kicked in and I just couldn’t.  I tried, but…I just couldn’t.”  She said all of this with a look of resignation on her face – not sadness or even regret, just an acknowledgement of what had happened.  We ended up having a lengthy talk about how vile depression really is, in that the best thing for it is to be active, but activity is about the last thing you can contemplate when you’re depressed. It’s the ultimate vicious cycle of mental health.

But her depression had lifted and she was there, in the gym, because she now could be.  She was obviously proud of herself and ready to get started on improving her health, despite the delay.  She didn’t express any shame about her setback, just a determination to do what she could, when she could.

I think most of us have something to learn from Ann, myself included.  So many of us tend to get down on ourselves for the things we didn’t do: we didn’t work out today, we didn’t make the best choices at dinner, we didn’t respond as we wish we had when somebody told that offensive joke, we didn’t blahblahblah.  And while it’s important to take stock of the choices we’d like to make differently in the future, what I love about Ann is that she simple saw her choice to stay home and take care of herself as a necessary choice that eventually lead her to where she wanted to be: in that gym, on that treadmill, on that day.  She could have very easily allowed herself to spiral, used her depression as an excuse to never go to the gym at all, even when she was feeling better.  She could have guilt-tripped herself into thinking that she was a failure, allowed herself to be embarrassed, and just given up.  Worst of all, she could have engaged in what I call DET, or Donut Equivalency Thinking: “I already blew my meal plan by eating an extra carrot, so I might as well just eat this box of donuts.”   [Fact: I actually did this once, as a 17-year old bulimic who was constantly fighting against my body.  You really can’t make this shit up.]

But she didn’t do any of this.  She just showed up, when she could, with this really infectious pride and excitement.  She seemed to understand that today, like every day, is an opportunity to start over, to make great choices, to empower herself despite her imperfections and the previous opportunities of which she wasn’t able to take advantage.  She obviously understands that guilt is useless and shame is counterproductive.  She just gets it.  And it was an inspiring reminder to me, someone who is completely committed to my physical and mental fitness, but who still has those days of not quite getting it right.

So this is just a simple reminder:  Today is yet one more chance to get it right, whatever “right” is to you.  For Ann, and for all of us, Today is Day 1.