Tuesday, March 4, 2008

For the Love of Exercise

Exercise and I never got along. My unpleasant experiences with physical activity began very early on in the overweight child's fear factory: gym class. As a grade schooler, I could never quite keep up so the other children hated to have me on their team and the gym teacher openly belittled me.

The situation didn't improve in high school. Go ahead, just say the words "the mile run" and I break out in a cold sweat and get a lurching sensation in my stomach. An "A" student in everything else, I ended up just passing gym every quarter.

In college I at least got to pick my poison. I chose non-activity physical education course such as CPR to fulfill my requirement. I tried to schedule my classes so I wouldn't have to walk across campus for my courses. I was afraid to even try to exercise.

Then, I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes. My doctor told me that unless I started exercising to increase my insulin sensitivity, I could expect to become diabetic in the next couple of years. I had to exercise not because someone was standing there screaming at me, but because it was what was good and necessary for my body.

I bought a good pedometer (I highly recommend the Omron HJ-112) and measured my base line of activity. I discovered that on most days I was taking between 2,000 and 3,000 steps. I did some research and was not surprised to discover that I was considered sedentary. I read that while individuals should try to make gradual changes, those who take around 10,000 steps a day are considered active.

So over last summer, I set my sights on 10,000 steps. Nearly every day, I made it a priority to walk twice a day for about 60 minutes at a time. I loathed it at first. It was torture. It was hot and I got sweaty and tired and sore, but I was extremely motivated by fear for my health.

But around July something wonderful happened--I began craving my walks and day dreaming about being out in the air, stretching my legs in the park. It became the most enjoyable part of my day. I had often heard tale of mythical people who enjoyed exercise, but I never imagined that they could be real or that I would ever join their ranks.

Today, I'm still fairly out of shape, but activity has become more a way of life than something I do for 60 minutes a day. I still focus on getting my extended walks in, but I find myself always taking the stairs, parking further away and moving around more.

It didn't happen all at once and I didn't notice it happening. Somehow it did. I found myself jogging across an intersection, keeping up on walks with physically fit co-workers and dancing in my living room. I have even started attending a yoga class before work--not because I was required to and not because I thought I would burn a lot of calories doing it--but because I knew it would be good for my body and I thought it would be FUN!

I did this. I made and sustained an enormous change in my life and I reap the benefits everyday and in case you're wondering, you can too. You may not enjoy it at first; you may hate it so much that it makes you cry, but trust me that the return you'll get makes the struggle worthwhile.

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