To be clear: I like my gym time. I don't necessarily like the first few minutes after my alarm goes off, or the last few, ab-scorching moments of a plank. But, my morning workout gives me some quality solo time to wake up and mentally prepare for the rest of the day. (It's also the only reasonable excuse to watch SVU reruns first thing in the morning.)
However, this fall, my schedule went a little haywire and suddenly my regular workout routine got slightly irregular. Naturally, I panicked. While I've made great progress in untangling myself from diet-based thinking, there's something about working out that feels urgent. And, when I started missing workouts here and there, an old, anxious voice in my mind said, "You're doomed, fatty."
Seriously. "Fatty." All that work on body positivity and I still have a few "fatty" thoughts hiding in my head? Apparently so. But, it doesn't mean I have to listen.
One of the longstanding pillars of this project is sustainable fitness for the sake of health. It's about being active, not being a slave to the StairMaster. I know that, you know that, and even that nasty little voice knows that. But, sometimes we all need conscious reminder, because the world is voices screaming, "SPINNING! SPINNING! ARE YOU SPINNING YET? WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?"
But, the truth about having a life means sometimes having a busy life. And, even if you love your morning treadmill-podcast jog, there will be days when it's just not doable. There might be weeks when it's just not doable. The crucial thing is not to beat yourself up about it, and remember this:
You don't need a workout to work out.
For a lot of us, it all goes back to middle-school gym class. If you, like me, grew up dreading kickball day, then you probably believe that exercise means a specific time and place and (slightly dreadful) activity. And, that's fair. Gym class sucked. Here's the good news: You're a grown-up now.
Once again, it's all about perception and re-wiring your brain. Just as I consciously change my thoughts around food, I do the same with fitness. When I have a "fatty" freakout about missing a workout, I remember that I'm not here to be a gym junkie. I'm here to be active.
When you reset the focus on being an active person, the world of fitness opens wide up. Because, really, there are plenty of things you're already doing that still "count" as exercise. Have you cleaned your bathroom lately? I mean, have you really gotten in there to scrub the tub, mop the tiles, and tackle the mildew that's taking over the shower-curtain liner? If the answer is yes, then I'm guessing you worked up a fair amount of bra sweat. (If the answer is no, then you might want to get on that. I could write a whole new column on how much better life is with a clean bathroom. The Anti-Mildew Project: coming 2015.)
A lot of chores get you physically moving, but it turns out that there is such a thing as fun exercise. All those semi-sport activities from gym-class days are a lot more fun when no one's grading you on them. And, FYI, I am not a team player, no matter what the game. So, I'm not saying to go out and join an adult softball league (though, if that's your Saturday-morning jam, then by all means). I'm just saying, maybe drag your friends out to a ping-pong bar. They have alcohol!
Last month, I went apple picking with a friend and mentioned the ping-pong bar idea. In response, she said: "Well, maybe it's moderate exercise, but one beer cancels the whole thing out. So, it doesn't count."
That's the kind of thinking that keeps us trapped in gym class. We've got to quit the concept of "counting" and just get moving. That day in the apple orchard, my Fitbit recorded almost 12,000 steps. I climbed trees and schlepped up and down hills, hauling 24 pounds of fruit. I also had a fresh cider donut and a lot of fun. Does that mean those steps don't count? Because I didn't take them on a treadmill? Because I enjoyed taking them and had a donut?
If you want to enjoy an active life, you can't leave out the "enjoy" part. That doesn't mean you can't love your kickboxing class — but it absolutely does mean exercising outside the box. When you do something like ping-pong or apple picking, you're still exercising — just not for exercising's sake.
That's the mental shift that gets you moving. Hitting the gym is great, and I'm not giving up my Olivia Benson cardio anytime soon. But, on those days when I'm bored or busy or would just rather do something more fun — then, I do. Because I don't have to choose anymore.