Three years ago this month, on the morning of my fifty-second birthday, I woke up, struggled mightily to pull on a sports bra, double-knotted my tennis shoes, and slunk into the small group exercise room at my local YMCA. Note: If you’re not the kind of person who has pulled a muscle attempting to take off winter boots or fallen over while putting on pants, this article is not for you.
Before I started working out regularly again (because admittedly, I’ve had fairly sustained stretches of exercise in the past), I felt like garbage most every day. I woke up with a headache that wouldn’t go away, there was a consistent and very annoying buzzing sound in my ears, and one of my ankles was puffy one day and back to normal the next. Oh, and about a month before this birthday, my doctor had prescribed medication for high blood pressure. I was taking it like a good little patient, but every time I even thought about it, I was convinced I could feel my blood pressure spiking. For many reasons, the idea of being on any medication for what I perceived as “the rest of my life” (the kinds that typically are prescribed for blood pressure and cholesterol maintenance) did not sit well with me.
My doctor had suggested that lifestyle changes – like different eating habits and regular exercise – might help lower my blood pressure. If I’m being honest, my diet was pretty good already, and I didn’t drink (sober for twenty-seven years – yay me!) or smoke. The regular exercise piece was definitely missing. For Christmas, I asked for a membership to the Y.
On the night before my January birthday, I got out of the shower, looked in the mirror, and said this to myself (yes, out loud): Next year at this time, either you will have made exercise a part of your life and you will look and feel better OR you will have failed, and you will still look and feel like crap. Either way, this year is going to pass, and God willing you will still be alive in it.
That first group class I took was all wrong for me. I was surrounded by thirty-somethings who already knew they belonged. I hid in the back of the room and stumbled a few times. Ten minutes in, I had to go to the bathroom; it was all I could think about for the remainder of the class. I went home that day feeling equal parts horrified and proud, yet I was inspired to try a different class.
By my fifty-third birthday, I was hooked. Not only was moderate exercise a part of my routine, but I had weaned myself off the blood pressure medication (doctor-sanctioned, of course) and made a lot of new friends in the process.
One of, if not the most important factor behind the success of establishing my exercise routine was having a schedule. The group classes with the instructors I liked happened at specific times, which meant I had to be there or I missed out. In the past, the flexibility of working from home sabotaged my efforts. I don’t know how many times I had said, I’m going to take a walk today! And yes, I walked a lot: from my desk to the bathroom to the refrigerator and back to my desk.
Once I added working out to my calendar, something clicked. I preferred morning classes because after I exercised, there was a sense of accomplishment, even if the rest of the day was a wash. Later, I read somewhere that exercising in a group might have also contributed to my success. Apparently, group classes are perfect for women, even introverts like me, who tend to have more success in a community.
Whatever the logic behind it, it was working – exercising in my scheduled group classes – until late March 2020. That’s when the world started shutting down and my college-age children, who had just come home for their extended spring break, put me on house arrest to keep me safe. There would be no exercise indoors for me under any circumstance.
Not being able to exercise inside with other people was disappointing, but in the end, it was a small sacrifice to make to keep my family and others in the community from getting COVID-19.
Soon after I suspended my membership to the Y, Sports Backers announced one of its your-route-your-way fitness events. Although I hadn’t jogged since college, I had a chance to build community with one of my daughters who enjoyed running. Together, we developed a system of what we now call “wogging.” First we walk for a bit. Then I jog and she runs ahead of me. Next she runs back to me, and together, we wog at a Mom-pace for a mile or so. We started training for the Firecracker 4-Miler last May, and we’ve been wogging three or four times a week ever since.
Much like the group classes, the trick (for me at least) is to schedule this exercise. Whether it’s with my daughter or solo, once it’s scheduled there’s no turning back.
Okay. I know I’m making this sound very simple. But the truth is, three years ago, I had to start somewhere. I started by taking one group exercise class. Eight months ago, I started by going on one wog. You might start by walking, dancing, or weight training. Whatever it is, start today, repeat tomorrow, and just keep going. In a year, you should feel a whole lot better. But I’m telling you: First, you have to start.