Post 4: Easing your way into fitness
Saturday, January 16, 2016
Integrating regular exercise into one's life is probably the most daunting task that is presented to someone who wants to lose weight, especially if they haven't been active up to that point. In my case I've been active at certain points of my life, but when I started this journey I was very out of shape. Due to the weight, walking had started to be painful and tough on my knees and feet, so I knew that any kind of high impact workout was not going to be part of my plan until I got a bit lighter.
I eased my way into regular exercise through swimming. Having access to a pool was a true blessing, as was the fact that I could swim freestyle (crawl) thanks to the swimming lessons of my early teenage years. I remember the first time I attempted to swim laps: after just one length in the 25m pool I was completely out of breath. By taking many rests, I managed to complete about 6 lengths. After a couple of months I progressed to a full 20 minute swim, which felt like the biggest accomplishment. Today my average session is 40 minutes and over 20 laps (still slow compared to the people around me doing the same distance in half the time!).
I will never get tired of talking about the benefits of swimming. Even if you do not do laps or styles and just move around in the water (or even better, water aerobics), it's such a great way to get fit. No impact on your joints, excellent cardio training, the added benefit of water resistance for your muscles and the chance you get to improve your aerobic condition and your lungs' capacity are just some of the amazing benefits of swimming. I also love that I get to strengthen my lower back, which is harder to target with other types of exercise (and I do have a spinal condition so this really great).
It was not until I had lost some weight that I started feeling confident enough to do some higher impact workouts. First it was just indoor walking in my living room with Leslie Sansone's and Jessica Smith's YouTube videos. I added some Pilates and Yoga inspired workouts as active recovery activities one day a week. I had already lost a considerable amount of weight and spent probably about 5 months in my new lifestyle when I decided to try running. I remember my first try: I only managed 8 minutes before my thighs and calves hurt too much to continue. Now my usual run is a 40 minute session that covers about 5k.
Then my new addition to the mix was the gym. Until very recently I had always thought of gyms as overwhelming places where everybody was fit and had an athlete's body- how could I possibly fit in? But as the winter approached I started to think about frozen hair when coming out of the pool so I decided to to give it a go and found a great deal that included gym and swim for a good price as long as I worked out very early in the mornings!
At present I am by no means an athlete; I listen to my body a lot and to be honest I do not push myself to the limit. If something hurts, I rest. I workout to a level where I feel comfortable and can enjoy what I'm doing. I've noticed those weight loss shows where very overweight people are all of a sudden thrown into intensive exercise sessions that include a lot of high impact activities, including running. Perhaps these shows have medical teams that monitor the participant's health, but in general I don't think it's safe to put so much strain on a body that is not conditioned. More importantly, I think it is more likely to hate exercise and develop an anti-workout mindset if everything feels so overwhelming and painful.
The whole point of this post is to say that it takes time to get fit and that for many people things fall into place more easily when progress is slower. It took me 7 months to get to a point where I swim (despite the frozen hair!), run, go to the gym and, since last week, do Zumba (on different days of course!). I am at a point in my life where I can organise my own schedule and prioritise my health, and I know this is a privilege. Not everybody finds it easy to take the time to workout every day and not everybody has access to fitness equipment or even a safe place to walk or run. I myself worry that in the future my professional career might get more demanding and I will lack the time to take good care of myself. But I try to stay positive and remember that it is always possible to take 30 minutes of your day and do a YouTube video workout, maybe just by giving up a TV show or some Facebook time. I just want to encourage anyone who is struggling with physical activity to keep trying, move up slowly, find a way to make it fun and only challenge yourself to the point where it's safe and relatively comfortable. Consistency will take you to unexpected places!