All too often, fitness is looked at as a chore. Another task to check off on our ever-growing to-do list. Something we dread. Something we avoid. Something we feel pressure to do and to perfect. This is what being fit and healthy used to mean to me. It was an expectation, an obligation, not something I gained any kind of life from.
I have come a long way since graduating two months ago from Georgia Southern. For those who don’t know my story, the cheat sheet version is this… I went to GS on a track scholarship, hurdles. I had broken my foot a months before my first semester so I didn’t compete my first year. I then competed a little bit my sophomore year, stayed involved and trained most of my junior year, and did nothing regarding track and field my senior year. Those first three years included 4 surgeries on the same foot, putting in and taking out stabilizing metal, etc. Naturally, the joy of exercising had been overrun by the idea that I had to be a certain way, look a certain way, be strong enough, to keep up with the others on my team. I was always playing catch-up because of the many surgeries, so exercise became a mechanical chore.
And I was borderline miserable.
What I have learned in the weeks since getting completely out from under that perspective, since I wasn’t around the team, or the sadness I couldn’t compete, is that true fitness is not a burden but a way of life. True fitness has nothing to do with six-pack abs or the ability to run a marathon.
It’s having the endurance to keep going when all we want to do is stop.
It’s having the strength to get through difficult times.
It’s having the discipline to push ourselves further and harder than we ever thought possible.
Fitness doesn’t happen overnight, but as Pete Magil wrote in the Running Times,
“[Fitness] appears while you’re living it.”
I had to stop thinking about it as a negative thing. If running 2 miles seemed awful, I didn’t force myself to do it. I’d go for a long walk instead. Fitness is something we get to do. Something that makes us better people. Something that allows us to enjoy our life more fully. Sure, others may benefit from it — our partners, our children — but at the end of the day, fitness is something that we own. It’s like a gift we can give ourselves. Something that has the opportunity to positively impact so many other areas of our life.
So, how can you make it a wonderful part of your life? Here are my two cents:
Figure out what you love to do.
Think back to your childhood. Figure out what made you happy and find something to reignite that feeling of play. Experiment and don’t be embarrassed. You won’t be be the best (or maybe even good) on your first try but remember — everyone had a first day. Go for it. Being there and just trying is enough. Spinning is great for my foot, not a lot of pressure, so I attend a spin class a couple times a week. Upbeat music, energetic ‘leaders,’ I really like it.
Schedule the time.
After figuring out what you love, make the time to enjoy it. Block it off on your calendar. It’s the best way to ensure you’ll actually do it. Fitness is just as important as a dentist appointment or business meeting. If you enjoy it, you’ll want to prioritize it. I am a morning person. It’s when I feel most productive, it’s when I have the most energy, so I get up early in the morning and take some sort of class at the YMCA next door to my office. I love having that quiet car ride to the gym for some me-time, and watching the sunrise is always a perk.
Give yourself a break.
You’re not perfect — you’re human. If you can’t convince yourself to get out of bed or drive to the gym, your body could be telling you to slow down. So listen. For today. If you allow yourself leeway, you’re less likely to burn out and hate working out. I always take Fridays off, so I’ll try and spend the morning with someone. Breakfast with Dad, getting ready conversation with Mom, etc.
Fit fitness into your every day.
One of the hardest parts about making fitness a priority is feeling you have to give up something else. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Join a local running group to meet new people. Watch your favorite show on the stationary bike. Do crunches and pushups during commercial breaks. Take a look at your current schedule and see how you can integrate fitness into your day-to-day.
Throw out the scale.
I used to judge my fitness by a number, and it held me captive. Rigid, no grace, no enjoyment. When I did this, fitness was a means to an end. It was no longer a priority — losing 5 or 10 pounds is. But true fitness has nothing to do with weight. A number should never dictate how we feel but being able to hold a plank for a minute (and then two and then three) and being able to climb several flights of stairs without being out of breath — those are worthy accomplishments. Embrace those. Live those.
Living fitness is feeling strong. It helps make life rich. Yes, it makes you feel good. But it’s not to be used to compare yourself to someone else, it’s what you want it to be. It took me a lot of grace — from God, to myself — to get here, but I’m thankful this is where I have landed. And I’ll share it with everyone I meet.