learning to love exercise: not urban legend, it happened to me

originally posted July 5, 2013 – edited
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As far back as I can remember I hated to exercise. Sure, as a kid I played tag, hide-and-seek, jump-scotch and double-dutch. Those were the days before thousands of channels, video games and smart phones. Staying inside meant helping my mom with dusting and vacuuming. So I played outdoors for hours on end.

Then puberty hit. My boobs grew. Hormones began to rage. I noticed boys.

And exercise was the last thing I wanted to do.

Even dusting and vacuuming seemed like a better option. At least neither of those made my boobs hurt.

In junior high I used any excuse I could to get out of gym class. Periods always came in handy. Good thing my gym teacher wasn’t charting my cycle and the frequency of my cramps.

I genuinely don’t recall exercising in any structured way through my last couple of years of high school, when gym class was no longer mandatory, or during my college years. I know I was way too busy for exercise the year I finished school and entered the workforce. Every spare moment was spent planning my wedding. Any weight loss would have come from the stress of agonizing over every minor detail – and – of course, dieting.

My first gym membership came a few years later, following the birth of my daughter. I seem to recall going 3 times per week to start, but then quickly dropping to twice, then once, and then only seeing the inside of that gym on the rarest of occasions.

I was about 25 years old, healthy(ish) and capable. Yet I could not muster up the energy or desire to prioritize exercise. Why?

  • It was boring.
  • I hated it.
  • I wasn’t good at it.
  • I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. Not fast enough, that is.

The list could go on and on. I associated exercise with anything and everything negative. Moreover, I saw it as punishment: i.e. I gained 10 pounds so I needed to go workout to get rid of it. Cause and effect.

Open up wide and take your medicine. I know it tastes like ass. Smile and swallow. That’s a good girl.

I was in my mid-30’s when I tried to fall in love with exercise the first time. I knew the positive impact exercise would have on my body, and since my never-ending cycle of fad diets was not giving me the lasting results I wanted, I turned to exercise to help things along.

It was clearly still a punishment for not being thin enough, but at least now I viewed it as a weapon in my arsenal of weight-loss tactics. I actually found things I enjoyed doing [to a degree], like Pilates and Step Aerobics. And I tried to convince myself that I actually looked forward to doing those activities a few times per week, although any excuse to miss one was readily latched onto. Groceries, yes! I need to do groceries right this very minute. Such a shame I have to miss that fitness class that also happens to be at this exact time.

I was in my early 40’s when I finally did become more serious about exercise. That’s because I needed to. My health was in decline. I had gained 40 pounds in 5 years, was taking daily medication to control high blood pressure, and was pre-diabetic. My BMI was 30.1, and while I didn’t look it, I was therefore considered obese by the BMI standards.

With a mom who developed Type 2 diabetes in her 60s, and a dad who had suffered a massive heart attack in his late 40s, followed by a stroke 15 years later, I knew that my gene pool wasn’t painting a particularly rosy picture for my future. Not unless I finally took some responsibility for my own health and well being.

I was certain that weight loss held the key to my better health, and I continued to try to take the weight off through decreased calorie consumption (i.e. diets), but at least at this point I was adding more regular exercise to the mix. Baby steps.

I found an outdoor Bootcamp near home and signed up for a free try-before-you-buy class. It damn near killed me. But I liked it. Sort of. I think what I liked about it was the variety of activities. No two classes were exactly alike. The only thing they had in common was that they challenged the shit out of me. like nothing else had before.

When the classes moved indoors, I moved with them. When we changed venues (multiple times), I followed. I had found the one thing that I actually wanted to stick with, and prioritized on my schedule. This was a breakthrough.

Dan, the owner, unexpectedly shut down the Bootcamp classes in September 2011. I was crushed. The one exercise program I had learned to love. Something I did at least 4-5 times per week, voluntarily, was no more. And I panicked, knowing that wheneverI had broken a set workout routine in the past, it had taken me weeks, if not months, to get back into something else.

Meanwhile, a year later, and mostly OFF the bandwagon (no joke), I bought that Groupon for a one-week stay at Fitness Ridge. Suddenly I found myself working out for 6 hours a day, for 6 straight days. I think it was day 5 before I actually liked it. But by day 6, I wished I had a second week there.

I worked out some after returning home, though clearly not with that level of intensity. Then the Christmas holidays hit, and…. < thud >  <– Me falling off the bandwagon again.

I’m still not sure exactly what clicked for me at the summit of that hike on New Year’s Day 2013, but something told me that I just had to stop making excuses and just make it a priority to move, to be active, every single day. And My Year of Sweat was born.

I won’t lie. There were many days in the first few weeks when I dreaded lacing up my running shoes, and would have given anything to find a plausible excuse to avoid that day’s workout. But having that resolution hanging over me, and having this blog to answer to kept me committed. I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to have to explain why I hadn’t finished what I started.

So, yes, it was forced to begin with. It felt like something I had to do because I told so many people I was going to do it. I felt accountable.

But somewhere along the way, something magical happened. I started to love exercise. Or to be more accurate, I fell in love with the way that the exercise made me feel.

These days I don’t workout because I told everyone I would. I workout because I want to. Because my body craves it. Because I always feel better after I workout, even on the shittiest day.

And believe me, no one is more floored by that than me.

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Keep moving,

xoxo nancy

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75 thoughts on “learning to love exercise: not urban legend, it happened to me

  1. You are such an inspiration to me, Nancy. I’m struggling to get so many things done right now, and most of them require me to splat in front of a screen. I just took a walk, and it felt great to be outside…..even though it’s in the 20s here today.

    • I feel your pain, Andra. This job could literally suck me right back into the old (Microsoft-era) Nancy (which wasn’t a pretty Nancy on many levels). I have to make the conscious choice, every day, to step away, and take an hour for myself to just move.

      You’ve got a crazy schedule coming up next week and for the foreseeable future. It will be REALLY hard to squeeze you-time in there. Know that if you do though, you’ll feel all the better for it (mentally and physically).

  2. Wow, Nancy, this is a nice summary of your relationship with exercise! Funny, I feel like I have always exercised, but if I am honest with myself, there are large gaps in our relationship as well. This is a wonderful way to get all of us to look back honestly. 😀 And motivate us for the future…

    • What triggered the post back in July 2013, was a magazine article I had read which explained why most people don’t exercise (or just exercise in spurts). That is, they feel that exercise is a punishment. I *have to* exercise or else I’ll get fat. Or, I gained 5 lbs, so now I have to go for a run 3 times this week.

      In the article, the writer described that when we move away from exercise-as-a-penalty to exercise because it’s just good for us and makes us feel better, that is when we can really change our relationship with exercise.

      For me, I’ll say that there are still days when I do it because it’s an item on my checklist (a chore, like several others). But, most days, I actually look forward to it, because I know how much better I’ll feel on a mental, physical and emotional level, once I’m done. It’s as if I’ve moved from exercise-as-punishment to exercise-as-reward mentality. And that is pretty awesome, Lynne.

      • Here’s what I love the most about exercise:
        – It improves my mood
        – I no longer have lower back pain
        – I can bust out in a run, if chased, and not die
        – my clothes fit better
        – I feel “capable”, if you know what I mean.

      • Here’s what I love the most about exercise:
        – It improves my mood
        – I no longer have lower back pain
        – I can bust out in a run, if chased, and not die
        – my clothes fit better
        – I feel “capable”, if you know what I mean.

        So much more upside than the occasional down (pain, soreness) 🙂

  3. I’m so glad you re-posted this, Nancy. It’s so easy to get caught up in the cycle of negativity when an fitness lifestyle change doesn’t work long term but reading success stories like yours filled with honesty and truth gives us motivation to find our own healthier path.

    • I pulled in out of the archives because I thought about emailing it to my niece. Then I read it and realized I actually needed to re-read it myself.

      I’m pretty good at beating myself up when things aren’t going as well as I’d like, but I rarely take the time to reflect on how far I’ve come.

      Thanks for you kind words, Lisa. I’m so glad this resonated with you.

  4. I’ll join you in the “love exercise” group. The more we do it, the more it becomes part of our daily routine, as natural as showering or making dinner. Well, almost as natural–I’m not completely insane. But we realize how much better we feel when we do it, and that serves as motivation alone.

    • Hear, hear, Carrie!
      Thankfully it’s no longer a fear of the pain or the discomfort of exercise that makes me think twice about doing it. These days it’s making time for it against other competing commitments.

      Hmm… I wonder which is the tougher challenge, now that I think about it.

  5. I could relate to all of this … including the part about “no one is more floored by that than me”. The realization that I stay active because I love the feeling of a strong, energized body was a game-changer. I was no longer training because I “had’ to 🙂
    I really do love the closing you use on all your posts – “stay active” .. it’s such a simple but meaningful message!

    • So many times over the past 2 years I’ve wondered, ‘how different might things be if I had figured this all out earlier in life?…”

      Oh well, no use crying over spilled milk. I finally got here, so I need to just embrace that and stop looking back over my shoulder.

      Still… wouldn’t it have been nice to know I didn’t have to starve myself back in my 20’s…?

  6. Sounds much like me in my younger years. Most days don’t feel balanced for me without at least 30 minutes of walking, biking, swimming, or grooving to some tunes.

    It’s chilly today, so I’ll probably do some DANC-ERCISE. “I like to move it, move it!”

  7. How fascinating to read how you found exercise! I’m the opposite, I’ve always loved exercise but finding the balance between time for small children, and having someone to look after them when I exercise is not always easy. And there are other excuses to be found too;) but I love your blog, it always inspires me to priorities me too.

  8. Nancy, you’re amazing!! What a beautiful post!! What a fascinating look inside your life! Truly, I’m so happy you found a passion for exercise!! Wonderful!! Have a happy Friday!! XOXO

  9. Thanks for this post, Nancy. I feel I need to get more serious about daily exercise. I’ve decided to add real gym time to my hiking/walking/running. You’ve motivated me to take the next step 🙂

  10. Fabulous post! Can TOTALLY relate! Gosh…exercise is where I fall down – – – the time issue….but the truth is more a priority issue (as yo mention). Anyway…happy new year!!!! Take care!

  11. What a wonderful encouragement, Nancy. I know that I feel the same way about my yoga practice, but I don’t consider that exercise. Movement, yes, but not exercise. I think it was kind of brilliant to get started with making public proclamations and feeling a responsibility to follow-through. Accountability did the trick! Now your self-motivation is inspiring! Keep it going. 🙂

  12. Damn, WordPress- that does not email me when bloggers post a post! It’s so frustrating because I have to find people on Reader and I miss some as I scroll through! GRRRRRR.

    Anyway, I found this three day old post of yours. 🙂 My fave line in it: “Open up wide and take your medicine. I know it tastes like ass. Smile and swallow. That’s a good girl.” Ha,ha,ha! That’s exactly how I feel. 🙂

    I used to love to exercise (really, I did). Especially if there was good music involved and dancing of some sort. I remember taking a jazz class at 8:00 am in college just so I could dance. I was the queen of Jazzercize AND I am the reason Jane Fonda got mega rich from her exercise videos. I wore out those videos so much that I had to keep buying new ones. I remember “doing” Jane twice a day. My superlative in High School was, “most likely to be dancing”. This Mo Brickhouse can dance!

    Then….ouch. Everything began to hurt. My feet could not tolerate any weight bearing ANYTHING. My joints ached, I began to get tired just from breathing. Sigh. But, hey…I still love dancing even if it hurts and I have to stay in bed for a week after it! 🙂

    I am getting a recumbent exercise back in a few weeks and I am looking forward to sitting in front of the TV and watching Days of Our Lives as I pedal away while my a** is comfortable in the seat. No way in hell am I walking anywhere outside. 🙂

    Didn’t mean for this comment to be a story about my life, oops! Thank you for always encouraging and motivating us, chica! xo

  13. “These days I don’t workout because I told everyone I would. I workout because I want to. Because my body craves it. Because I always feel better after I workout, even on the shittiest day.”

    It’s amazing that that should be the case, isn’t it? Maybe it is the small things that are the best, after all. I never thought a mere thing like working out would improve my life… but it does. I guess that’s all you can hope for.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your pathway to exercise enjoyment.
    I think a LOT of people struggle with this. Although I was active growing up, once I went to college and stopped being involved in sports, I definitely used exercise as a “punishment” for putting on weight or overindulging. I didn’t enjoy my time spent in the gym so I just didn’t go. And I even had access to 3 FREE gyms in my school with really nice facilities. I always felt like I was missing out on something fun if I was at the gym, instead of now where I feel like gym is my “fun time.”
    Either way, I’m glad you’ve found your love for exercising, and I’m glad I’ve found mine too. I personally can’t imagine my life without it!

  15. Pingback: keep your eye on the prize | my year[s] of sweat!

  16. Great post, Nancy! I relate to your summary SO SO much. It’s been just the past four years or so that I’ve built a better relationship with exercise. I never did anything active growing up. Ever. I read books and watched old movies. In my 20’s, I restricted my diet until I lost weight. Like a saltine and a diet coke A DAY. Awful, awful, I know, and it made me incredibly tired and unhealthy. In my 30’s, I had kids and viewed exercise as my punishment for gaining weight. I never really fell in love with any form. Late 30’s and now (early 40’s, dangerously close to MID 40’s holy shit) I have fallen in love with running. I’m horrid at it. Slow. Ungraceful. I feel sorry for anyone who watches me…..but I really like it so I keep going and going and going, even with a bad back. I’m finally improving my run distance and endurance too. (< don't be impressed, we're talking very short distances, but improvement = YAY).

    • I love that you have fallen in love with running. (As a side note, I think that makes you a total freak…)

      There’s something so beautiful about realizing that your body can do something today that it couldn’t do a month ago or a week ago or yesterday.

      The feeling of getting strong and feeling HEALTHY has actually surpassed by desire to be thin. And no one is more shocked than I am. 🙂

    • Left London at 9 am – arrived here in Toronto at 11:50 am. 🙂
      It was a great week, with a fabulous all day visit yesterday with my friend Sam. 24 hours at home before flying out to Atlanta tomorrow evening. Will try to get a blog post and pics up sometime this week, but it’s not looking great at this point. 🙂

  17. It’s so hard to get into that rhythm. Once I get there, then the opposite happens. I can’t stand missing a workout. I suppose it’s a matter of establishing good habits.

    • Thanks Jill! I think it all boils down to reframing the way you think about things. I used to see exercise as punishment. Penance for bad choices. Now I see it as an escape, me time, loving myself.

  18. well I cam where from nwframeofmind and I am so glad I did – I enjoyed this post about your experience with coming to love exercise – well written and that group on was truly a good purchase! 🙂
    and while I like exercising – it can too easily get pushed to the side and I am so glad when I consistently get my workouts in – and for me it comes to making it a habit and of course getting it down early in the day – have a nice day and best wishes in your working out!

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