Thursday, November 9, 2017

Facing Reality With Exercise

Coming To Terms

*I am not a member of the medical field or a fitness trainer. My writing, opinions and exercise routines are my own and are not to be construed as advice for others.
Don' t I Look Athletic?!
Today, I'm talking about my life-long battle with trying to exercise. If you are a die-hard exerciser who runs, goes to the gym regularly or can't understand why I would be writing a post about my exercise difficulties, then you may want to move on to another blog today. I'm not being rude. It's just that I've kinda had it with trying to live up to the world's fitness expectations and today I'm going to tell my side of the story. So here goes...

Hiking Down To The River
My love-hate relationship with exercise began in gym class in elementary school. To be honest, prior to elementary school, I loved playing outside and had no problem running around having fun, playing badminton and volleyball with my sisters and using my imagination with outdoor play. But, then came gym class, and my whole image of what exercise meant changed. Suddenly, I discovered that I wasn't "good" at gym. I couldn't run fast enough, jump the hurdles (they scared me to death as I knew I would trip over them and fall) or climb the ropes. I hated tumbling and was scared to put my head down and roll forward on the mat. I figured I might break my neck if I didn't make it all the way over. I was one of those "last choice" kids picked for team sports and was even called a "scaredy cat" by a gym teacher once because I wouldn't straddle the monkey bars and swing myself around like a propeller. (I ask you?!) All of these experiences only served to reinforce the idea I formed in my mind that I wasn't athletic. Gym day at school began to be my least favorite day and I could actually make myself sick worrying about what I would have to do that day in class. My poor mother and oldest sister tried to help me at home by running in the yard with me and even holding broomsticks up in our hallway for me to jump over. Sometimes, I got my courage together and jumped and other times I just couldn't bring myself to do it. And I always came away from these experiences feeling like a failure with exercise.

Walking Around Bear Lake
Somehow, I made it through my public school years of gym classes, graduated from High School and moved on to college. Great, I thought. No more gym classes to deal with now! Au contraire! I arrived at college in the late seventies, just when running as a sport was getting popular. All Freshman had to complete a running course for a gym credit and we were informed by the coach that our "goal" was to run a four minute mile by the end of the course. What?! I had never been a runner, didn't even own a decent pair of running shoes and now I was supposed to be able to run a four minute mile by the end of the semester? What planet did this professor/coach come from anyway? But, being the dutiful, perfectionist student that I have always been I actually bought into this crap and diligently tried to run. We had to keep track of our minutes spent running and turn them in as part of our grade. Well, long story short, I ended up with a really bad shin splint from doing all this running in the wrong kind of shoes. I'll never forget going to the school's health center and explaining to the nurse how my injury felt. She gave me a bit of wisdom that I have never forgotten when she said, "Not everybody is cut out for this type of exercise." think?! But, at the time I was too young and naive to really internalize this truth. So, I just assumed, once again, that I was a big failure when it came to exercise. And, no, Debbie didn't run the four minute mile by the end of the course!

A Short Walk At The Golf Course
You might think that after graduating from college I could put all of this angst about exercise aside. After all, I was an adult now and could pretty much make my own exercise choices, right? Well....yes and no. You see, I fell in love with a guy who was (and is) handsome and loving and a hard worker and......a runner and hiker extraordinaire! The first date we went on, he spent most of the evening talking about his plans to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. He waxed poetic about trail info and maps and shelters he would stay in. I wondered if he realized the AT was, ummm, 2,200 miles long and would take him five months to hike? (Which he did understand since he did hike the entire trail from March-August of 1980!) Well, if I was gonna marry this guy I probably needed to be able to hike, right? I tried to like these loooong hikes, I really did, but I would get so tired! If I had a dollar for every time I heard, "our destination is just around the next corner" I would be a very rich woman, indeed! But, I valiantly tried to keep up with him and even joined the local hiking club with him when we first moved to Asheville. And there, just like in gym class in school, I always brought up the rear. I can remember the hiking club "sweep" always hanging back making sure that I was still with the group. To my husband's credit, he tried to match my pace, but it soon became apparent that the hiking club was not for me. 

Sitting And Taking In The Scenery
And so the years passed and I kept trying to find my exercise "niche." Jazzercise was really popular in the 90's and lots of my friends were taking the classes so I decided to give that a try. And I did like the dance part. But, it was always followed up by floor exercises. The whole thing last about an hour and a half and I was so exhausted by the time I got home that I ended up spending the rest of the evening on the sofa recuperating. Same with yoga class, which was supposed to relax and rejuvenate me. I kept hearing about how people would feel so "energized" after exercising. But, for me, these classes just wore me out. And, I was already exhausted after a day of teaching!

Thumbs Up For Short Hikes!
So, now I'm retired. And I figured that, finally, with all the job stress behind me, I would finally be able to find my exercise groove. Surely, each day of retirement would find me spending time in some type of fulfilling exercise adventure. Gym classes are all behind me now. I can do this. I am athletic. Now it's Debbie time, right? Well...... sort of. 

I'm gritting my teeth but happy after a 20 minute hike!

I keep reading about what exercise should consist of as you get older. How important it is to get 150 minutes of exercise per week. How strength training is important and how improved flexibility for older folks can keep them from falls. So, I tried to write my minutes of walking down and keep track of them on my calendar. But, I kept falling short of the 150 each week. So, you know, there goes that failure piece again! And I developed my own little calisthenics routine that I like to do. You know, 10 leg lifts, marching in place, gentle stretches that I can adapt as needed. And, I really liked doing that. But, it only consisted of about 5-10 minutes of exercise, so that's probably not doing anything for me, right? Cause, you know, if you exercise it needs to be for at least 30 minutes right? And you need to sweat! And when you're done your abs should be rock hard and your butt should look like you're 20 years old again, right?! Aarrgh! So, in a last ditch effort to prove to myself that I am athletic and can be an exercise guru, I decided to give yoga one more try. We have several places in town that teach yoga and the one I chose offers donation only classes, plus they offer lots of classes for beginners. I mean, I couldn't go wrong with a Beginning Yoga class, right?  Sigh...

Early Morning at Bear Lake RMNP
You know how lots of people swear that yoga helps them with their back aches? Well....I may be the only person around who gets a back ache from doing a beginners class....yeah, my back hurts. It's that failure thing again. And I think I'm done with yoga class. 

With My Love at Alluvial Falls RMNP
So, I'm coming to terms. It's time to face the facts. And, I'm finding it's not such a terrible thing to admit at all. You see, I'm not athletic. And that's OK. Who cares? My husband still loves me and I still love him. (Even though he still thinks that hikes shouldn't be less than two hours!) But, we have adjusted over the years. He goes on long hikes by himself and we go on walks together. Or shorter hikes. Mostly level. That's the way I like them. My husband calls them,"Debbie approved hikes." Our friends have even started using that phrase! I've also discovered some things about exercise since I retired that work for me. For instance, I like 20 minute walks. I really do feel energized after a 20 minute walk in a way that I wouldn't feel if it turned into an hour long walk. And I really do like my little exercise routine that I do that takes me 5-10 minutes. And I guess I'll just have to live without rock hard abs and a butt that looks like I'm 20. I'm willing to sacrifice that! 

In all seriousness, though, I'm just tired of trying to be something that I'm really not. I think back often to what that college nurse said, "Not everyone is cut out for this type of exercise." I believe she was absolutely correct. I think back to my pre-elementary school days when I took great joy in just being outside, using my imagination and enjoying play. Somehow all of that got ruined and forgotten when I was "socialized" at school into society's idea of what doing exercise meant. I enjoy being in the great outdoors just sitting and watching nature, going for shorter walks and hikes, walking around lakes and doing gentle movement and stretches in short time amounts. And you know what? That's OK. It's OK that I'm not athletic. It's OK that I prefer reading over running, writing over sports and blogging over yoga. I've decided that being a fit fifty-something involves fitness in more ways than just physical. And for that realization, I am very grateful. Better late than never, right? And, you want to be on my team? 

Until Next Time,

Linking With:


Karen said...

Oh Debbie, I truly enjoyed this post. I can relate to every bit of it, no kidding. From the gym class terrors of old (and terrors they were) to present day I-have-to-force-myself-to-exercise, I can relate to every bit of it. Like you, I enjoy walks out in nature. I'll tackle a hill here and there, but not for the entire hike. And like you, coming home exhausted at the end of the day (mental exhaustion counts!) the last thing you want to do is go to a gym. Maybe a walk (on a nice day), but you are already drained from the day. I have a friend who I walk with at work, on our lunch hour. For the entire hour. If we didn't encourage and show up for each other, neither of us would do it. We talk about retirement (which we are both currently longing for) and how we will take an exercise class together, join Silver Sneakers, whatever. I smile and think, maybe one or two days a week for a little while...maybe...maybe not. I really don't like exercise Debbie. I like to be out in nature, like to walk, but call it exercise and the old terrors resurface. And if I get into a routine (I especially like Leslie Sansone's Walk At Home DVDS), I quickly tire of it. It's just who I am and I accept that. I know it is important as we age, I know it. So I walk. I don't run, I don't climb. It's okay. I'm so with you on this that I found myself nodding and agreeing with all that you wrote. Thank you for being honest and for validating those of us who just aren't interested in training for our next 5K (or more).

Debbie Styles Life said...

I'm glad that you enjoyed the post, Karen. It sounds like we have both had our gym horror stories. I like your wording when you called them "terrors" because that is exactly how I felt! And yet others around me were running around like it was all nothing. It felt REALLY good to write this post and be honest about how I am feeling and have always felt about exercise. Very empowering, indeed. Kudos on your lunch hour walks! I hope your longed for retirement comes soon! Have a great day.

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Great post, Debbie. I relate tho there were a few things I did well (in comparison to average girl) but was never great at athletics and sports. 10 minute walks 3 or 4 times a week is great and good for you. I used to have an evening workout of just dancing to uptempo music (Gloria Estefan's fast congo, rhythm numbers work great.) I also like the stretches and short walks. Everything counts and you should only comoare performance with yourself.

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

I'm adding a link to this post on my post tomrrow on taking care of yourself. I couldn't have done long distance hiking like in your husband even in my prime. You are fabulous!

Sharon said...

I can relate so well to your post since I also have very similar gym class stories. As an only child whose parents were not athletic, I never learned how to dribble a basketball, hit a softball, etc. Then in gym class, it seemed that everyone already knew those skills, and the gym teachers expected me have mastered them without even being taught. I was also the last one chosen for teams with plenty of sighing and eye rolling from team members who had to choose me since I was the only one left. I have enjoyed dance classes such as Zumba, but if they are held in a gym setting, it bothers me still because it brings back all those "gym avoidance" feelings. I'm glad you wrote this post. It helps to know there are others with similar experiences to mine.

Diana Stevan said...

Debbie, love your honesty. I was a scaredy cat and can relate to your hurdles, tumbling and last choice stories. Thanks for your post!

julie Wunder said...

Hey Debbie!!! I was totally NOT athletic and picked last in school gym class too. :-)
I think walking is fabulous and it actually sounds like you like that! Do THAT! You are not a failure for not liking the other things. We are all different. xoxo

Jacqui said...

Hi Debbie, thank you for your great post, and thank goodness I'm not the only one! Like the other readers who have commented, I identify with you so very well. Only the other day, I heard myself saying to a work colleague who was planning to go to the gym in the evening: 'I don't like excercise; I don't like the feeling of being out of breath,' and immediately felt guilty because we're told so much how it's good for our health. I like a gentle walk - but it's better if I take my camera - and, as I had a back op a year or two ago, I do daily stretching exercises, but I have to make myself do vigorous exercise. As a child, up to about age 11, I loved it - handstands, cartwheels, crabs - I could even spin in the air and land on my feet, but I lost interest as I grew older. I've come to the conclusion that some people are 'body' people, and some are 'head' people. Like you, I think I must accept I'm the latter!

talkie said...

Dear Debbie,

Thank you for making me feel better about myself. I am an occasional walker (20 minutes is good) and I do not regimented exercise. I enjoy the out of doors but if it listed as exercise, leave me out. I'm not a hiker either. If you are not an athlete failure than neither am I. Thanks for uplifting me. You are good company.