If you make the wise decision of trying to get more exercise, you’ll need to figure out what you are able to do and how long you are able to do it. I’m not talking about what you could do in your glory days. I’m talking about what you can do right now. I’ll give you an example.
When I was in college, I wasn’t very fat or heavy at all. I used to jog three miles a day religiously, until the day I got a job, and then I just didn’t seem to have the time for it anymore. With a little patience and a lot of junk food, I grew to be over 60 pounds heavier than my former self. Then, out of the blue sky, I decided to take up jogging again. I bought a pair of cheap running shoes and headed for the local high school track. There was quite a variety of people walking, running, and playing soccer. I saw a few high school-aged people and even some women and men over 60 or 70 years old. I thought, “This is great, I can look forward to 40 more years of jogging.”
I remembered that I had liked to stretch before the three-mile-joy-ride, so I stretched out my thighs, calves, and any other leg muscles I could think of. I was set to go, and I couldn’t wait to get the “runner’s high” that I used to experience daily.
The first ten steps were a little bit uncomfortable, and of course they would be. I hadn’t attempted to jog in seven years (and 60 pounds). “But I only need to run twelve laps,” I thought to myself. That would be three miles.
I started out strong, but within the first half lap, I had slowed considerably and I was having trouble breathing. This isn’t how I remembered it. What was going on? I feared I might collapse right here on the track, and then the grandma runners would pass me up one by one and laugh. I couldn’t let that happen.
Since I could barely run, or breathe, I decided to start limping. It didn’t matter which leg I chose as long as it remained consistent. I slowly limped onto the grass in the center of the track and pretended to be assessing the damage to my leg. I was actually sucking wind quite violently.
A few people stopped to ask if I was all right. All I could think to say was, “Damn, it’s the same muscle I pulled six months ago.” I’m glad they didn’t ask me which muscle. I then massaged my leg all over but concentrated most of my efforts on my left ankle. Within five minutes I was up and limping again, this time straight towards my car.
Even though I seemed to pull off the fake limping act, I still felt miserable. I hadn’t even run one lousy lap. I got in my car and raced away. I couldn’t go straight home until I had collected all of my painful thoughts and sorted them out. Instead, I headed to the one place that I felt most welcome…7-Eleven. I don’t remember what I feasted on that day, but I didn’t imagine that the clerk was laughing at me as I had imagined the other runners back at the track had been. In fact, no one really laughed at me that day, but they might have if I hadn’t been such a great actor. And knowing that they could have laughed at me, I ate like a king and queen combined, and I cleansed myself of the imagined laughter. I wanted a hug that day, but maybe what I really needed was therapy.
The story illustrates that you need to exercise at your current level of ability. If it has been five years since you’ve exercised, you cannot expect yourself to pick right up where you left off. Experiment a little and see what your body can actually do right now.
Another gem I will peddle to you is the idea of starting small and building up to bigger routines as you become ready. If you decide that walking will be your favorite means of exercising, don’t try for ten miles on your first day. You can easily start by just walking around the block each day for a week. Next you can try expanding your walk to involve a few more blocks. The following week you’ll add even more blocks, and in six months or so, you just might be walking three or four miles. Make sure that you build up gradually, rather than biting off more than you can chew. It’s much better to have a continuous string of successes than a setback every four weeks.
After you lose ten to fifteen pounds, you will feel able to exercise longer. The more you lose, the more you can do. That seems a bit backwards to me. The people who most need to exercise are the same people who can do the least amount of it. It’s a cruel world. Don’t think—just get started right now.
When you are ready to begin exercising, remember that you will be doing this each day. It is important not to get bored. If you keep your exercise bicycle in the garage, make sure you also have a television or radio in the garage. Watching television or listening to the radio passes the time a little faster; before you know it, your 30 minutes are up.
One friend of mine is a big advocate of varying your routine often. If you’ve been walking on flat land as your exercise, perhaps the next thing to do is to try adding some hills to your walk. Then perhaps you could bike on certain days and swim on others. I agree that this would be a better overall workout than exercising the same way each day. However, I’m lazier than he, and we both know it. He has weighed 100 pounds less than me for a stretch of nearly ten years, so he must be doing at least a few things right.
Whatever your exercise plan will be, make sure you keep at it. Make a schedule and stick to it. Let it be a regular part of your day, like brushing your teeth or feeding your dog or cat. It’s easy to say you will just take one day off, but sometimes that day can turn into days or weeks.
Plan ahead for the winter or off-season. You may not be able to jog for long stretches at a time during the winter, depending upon your local climate. Buy that exercise bike, or take up an indoor exercise such as aerobics.
It is also wise to be mindful of the time of day you prefer to exercise. I knew a lot of people at my office that liked to get up early in the morning and exercise. I always had a hard time getting up early, since I had been used to staying up so late (when I was twenty-something). But many things would keep me from exercising after work. I was often too tired or mentally drained after work. I also belonged to some clubs that met in the evenings, and I still needed some time to see my friends. Yes, life was busy, but I’m sure it’s been busy for you as well. Given my situation, I eventually realized that I could exercise more consistently if I woke up one hour earlier and exercised in the morning. Was that easy for me? No. It took me three or four months to adjust to my new schedule. But once I found myself bouncing out of bed very early in the morning, I knew I would continue to do so.
The best news about exercise is that it gives your metabolism a jolt to help you burn more calories even after you’ve finished exercising. That’s truly a deal you can’t pass up. So stop whatever it is that you are doing and go exercise right now. Yes, I mean it! Hurry! Right now!