Happiness Series: Physical Fitness

My DOs and DON’Ts of Physical Fitness!

I am not a medical professional, or personal trainer. But I am a busy Mom with a demanding job, a long commute and a million excuses. Exercise has never been high on my priority list but when I started this journey to find true happiness, there was no ignoring it plays a big part in a well-balanced life. If you have ever seen a doctor for any reason you have probably received an ear full about the health benefits of exercise.

I am not here to tell you what exercises to do to get swole. I am still learning what works best for my own workouts. I am here to pass on the lessons I have personally learned while incorporating physical fitness into my own life. Physical fitness, approached in a positive way, can have a profound impact on personal happiness. As I mentioned in my last Happiness post, we need to change our way of thinking to love ourselves as we are now, but we should still also work to improve our health and well-being wherever we can.

Here are my Do’s and Don’ts for physical fitness! Take what you like and leave the rest!

DON’T: Stand in your own way.
I believe it is very rare for our lack of exercise to be someone else’s fault. It is my sincere hope that no one else has enough power over your life that they decide when and how you exercise. It is far too easy to try to blame others or outside circumstances. When if we really wanted to workout, we just would.
DO: Cut through the excuses to the root of the problem.
I went through a phase recently where I expressed my interest in adding dedicated exercise to my daily routine but “just didn’t have enough time”. My wonderful husband tried to offer helpful suggestions of where I could squeeze in a trip to the gym, let’s just say it didn’t go over well… I had good excuses too! I don’t want to get up earlier, I already get up at 4:30am. After I get home from can’t work either because I only get an hour with my baby before she goes to bed as it is, I am not willing to give up that time with her! In the end I decided to give up my lunch break and spend an hour in the gym available within my office building. But I had excuses for that too… There is always just one more thing, or someone needs something right away. Before I knew it, I hadn’t actually been to the gym in weeks. I needed to get out of my own way. I realized that I won’t prioritize it if there is something I feel is more important in front of me. So still not taking a lunch so I can get my eight hours of work in, I changed my schedule to start work at 8:30am instead of 7:30am. Now I go straight to the gym as soon as I get to my building. I have dedicated workout time that is in its own time slot and not taking away from family or work. I identified where my excuses were coming from and tried different options until I found the one that worked for me.

DON’T: Exercise to get thin.
Looking back at fashion and tends of history, we can see that being thin was not always in style. There are many contributors throughout history to the modern view of the ideal female form. One which was described by Sarah Lohman, a “historic gastronomist” interviewed by LiveScience for the article “The Real Skinny: Expert Traces America’s Thin Obsession”; “The industrial revolution also played a role: As standardized dress sizes became popular, women were more aware than ever before of their relative sizes. “Before, you went to a seamstress, and she made a dress for you. Now you were going to a department store and you were buying small, medium and large, or 8, 9 and 10, and it gave a very easy way to compare who was larger than who,”. At some point we stopped thinking of ourselves as individuals. It became a competition to be smaller than the next person instead of what was best for our own bodies. No two people are the same, “thin” (whatever that means) is not the best fit for everyone.
DO: Exercise to get healthy.
Exercise is still important! As more and more jobs move behind a desk, we are less physically active in a day than ever before! I personally have found myself plugging along and being shocked to realize that I haven’t moved from my chair in several hours. That isn’t healthy! We need to commit to incorporating exercise into our routines not to meet some arbitrary social standard of beauty but for our own wellbeing! Exercise is proven to make people feel better and live longer! Exercise is proven to give you more energy and improve brain function! Exercise for yourself, not because of the judgment of others!

DON’T: Start exercising to lose weight for an event.
I couldn’t begin to count how many times I have heard people starting an exercise routine to lose weight for summer, or an upcoming wedding, or a graduation, or some other approaching special occasion. The problem with using an event to encourage yourself to exercise is multi-layered. First and most obvious is that once the event is over most people stop exercising completely, the motivation is fleeting. We need to form a habit of exercise as a permanent fixture in our lives not a short-term way to reach a goal. More importantly, you focus so much of your energy on reaching that weight or size that you lose out on the excitement and anticipation of the event itself. God forbid the goal isn’t reached in time! Putting an inflexible clock on a goal is asking for disappointment. If the goal isn’t reached the event may be ruined by self-disappointment. Enjoy life’s special moments exactly as you are! Don’t make your happiness contingent on your weight!
DO: Set achievable goals.
Having goals however is an excellent idea! Goals are a completely personal task, I can’t tell you want goals you should have. Analyze who you are and what drives you to determine what goals you should set. What obstacles do you need to overcome to be successful? Set small achievable goals that have a clear success point. For example, one of my goals was to go to the gym every weekday without skipping days. I also set scheduled goals for increasing weight or reps periodically (and reassessed my readiness once the day comes). Avoid focusing your goals around losing pounds or inches, exercise also builds muscle and those measurements can be deceiving and discouraging.

DON’T: Workout because you think you have to.
No one is going to force you to exercise. People in your life may lecture you or guilt trip you but only you have power over your life and your choices. Exercising because you “have to” will never last. Find a good reason to WANT to! For my husband and I the biggest motivation to be healthier is our daughter. When she was born, we both started making life changes that were long overdue. Find your motivation and build exercise into your life because you want to, not because you have to.
DO: Make exercise fun.
Most people are unlikely to stick to a habit they don’t enjoy, and why should we? Don’t put yourself in a box. During the week the gym is my best option, so I make it fun by making that my personal time to listen to my favorite podcasts or watch my favorite youtubers. Make a perfect upbeat music playlist that really gets you excited! Exercise isn’t limited to equipment you can find in a gym. Take a nature walk or run through the park! Go rock climbing or surfing or parkour if that’s your thing! Dancing or Yoga or even enthusiastically cleaning your house can be exercise! Play with your kids, I guarantee you will work up a sweat! Make sure your workout is something to look forward to!

DON’T: Exercise in a way that feels wrong.
It is so easy to fall int the Pinterest and Instagram trap! Everyone has an opinion on “the best workout” but no one has a body exactly like yours. Over everything, listen to your body! If something feels wrong, don’t do it.
DO: Try things outside of your comfort zone.
Listening to your body is not the same thing as staying comfortable. For a person to improve in any area of life there must be risk and change. Try new things and give it a shot before you decide you don’t like it. You might just discover a new passion!

DON’T: Overwork your body too fast.
Doing too much too fast can be dangerous. Ease yourself into your new workout. Build up slowly in difficulty, repetitions, and weight so your body can adjust in a healthy way. It is good to get excited but if you hurt yourself in your eagerness you will be less likely to try again. It isn’t a race or competition, it’s a journey!
DO: Focus on different muscle groups per workout.
I personally think of cardio first and foremost when I think of exercise, so when I started I had hard cardio as part of my routine every day. By day four I could barely walk… I went seeking advice on how to better balance my routine and started learning about the benefits of muscle group days. It is different for each person and life style (if you have an active weekend don’t do leg days on Friday!). I am also no longer trying to rush through each exercise to fit a whole-body workout into one hour. I really appreciate being able to focus time and energy on each part of my body. I has helped me gain insight into my own body that I didn’t realize I needed.

DON’T: Give up or talk yourself out of it.
Most people will not see or feel results right away. Physical fitness, like true happiness is not a destination, but rather it’s a journey that you will be able to look back on to feel proud while reaping the benefits of your hard work. Self-doubt and laziness are dangerous roadblocks. Giving in can set you back to the beginning! If you aren’t seeing the results you were expecting mix things up or push yourself harder. Do more research and talk to your doctor. Have faith in yourself!
DO: GO! Even if you go easy, Go.
Schedule your days and time for your daily exercise. If you are having a hard time that day and you consider not going, just go! Give yourself permission to go easy on your workout on hard days. Once you get going you might find that you don’t need to go easy after all. Even if you do go easy that workout, some exercise is way better than none!

DON’T: Give up something you love to make time for the gym.
One thing that really held me back for a long time was how hard it was to “find the time”. You aren’t going to find the time, you have to make it! The first go to options are get up early and go before work or go after work. Neither worked well for me. I already get up at 4:30am and I can’t drop my daughter at daycare any earlier than I already do. After work I get home just in time to make dinner and spend a few minutes playing with my daughter before putting her to bed. Sleep and time with my daughter are both very important to me! It took some outside of the box thinking but I discovered what I don’t value is my lunch break. I usually ended up working through it anyway I didn’t need the overtime. I am lucky enough to have a flexible job and moved that hour to the start of my day for my workout. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, I magically “found” an hour in my day that was not being utilized. If I had tried to give up time I use for something I love I would have never stuck with it.
DO: Prioritize your own health and happiness.
Before I switched my hour break to the start of my day, I tried to work out in the afternoon before heading home. That was much more convenient in terms of sweat and prettiness. What I learned was I almost never went… Something always came up. There was that “one more thing” to finish, or someone would call or stop by “needing” my help. Work was hard and exhausting and some days I was just too mentally tired by the end of the day. It wasn’t working because I held everything else in a position of higher priority than my own health and happiness. It’s hard to say no to others and yourself when they are getting in your way. Your health and happiness is important!

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