Mighty Life List
Jan 11 2011

Getting My Health in Order, Part IV: Exercise

If you’re just joining us, we’re talking about getting my health in shape, which is on my life list. Here’s Part I where I outline the obstacles, and Part II where I advocate for acupuncture, Part III is an ode to my teeth (Also, check out all the tips in the comments of this post on overcoming fear of the dentist. Nice!). Please join us for this installment of My Body Thinks My Joints are a Disease, wherein I outline my aversion to exercise.

Let’s talk about the gym. Yes, let’s. Go get a pint of ice cream and meet me back here.

Now. Say you’re hurting and feeling fat. OK! Let’s put on some shorts and go somewhere public. Great. Are there lots of men here? Perfect. Now do something that makes you sweat. You’re all sweaty? Now stop, lay down on the floor, and contort yourself in ways so lewd you would blush to adopt similar positions while having actual intercourse. Great, great. See how every man in the room is openly gawking at you? Ignore that. Consult your copy of Kama Sutra and assume the next position in your floor mat routine.

So motivational, right? I know!

I Have Not, Historically, Enjoyed Exercise

Until the last six months or so, I’ve never understood people who like the gym. I mean I thought they were maybe a different species, in that I could never mate with one. When my weight, and later my health, made it necessary for me to get off the couch, I just… didn’t want to. It ran counter to my self image.

I did it anyway, but mostly whimpered while exercising and slept afterward. This is perhaps because my body was storing toxins in my muscles that were released when I moved in new ways. Or perhaps because I was weak like a hairless mewling kitten. Aside from acupuncture though, building the muscles around my joints has had the greatest impact on my day to day life. It mostly started with Tracy Andersen.

Exercise DVDs

If you don’t like the gym, but you can manage a bit of self discipline, I recommend exercise DVDs. I’ve come to love Tracy Andersen, despite the rocky start to our relationship:

“The next part of the abdominal series is the piking series,” Tracy Anderson says. What? Oh, it’s on Tracy Anderson. Through this section, I punish you by whimpering in disapproval. “This is the most difficult series for the abs” Tracy Anderson continues. I whack my right hand against a miniature xylophone, and glare at Tracy Anderson through narrowed eyes. Her tiny dancer body still fits entirely within my millimeter of vision. I stub my left toe on an abandoned Tonka truck. My millimeter of vision begins to swim.

Tracy is Gwenyth Paltrow’s trainer (free video clip). The videos are low impact, and really focus on strength:

I had resolved to try it for seven straight days, but by the second day I couldn’t rise from a reclined position. I also couldn’t hold my head upright, and my tongue felt all achy. I stopped after the second workout in self defense, but a strange thing happened, dear reader. As my stomach fibers began to recongeal, I could see a difference! After two workouts! Bryan concurs that I am not hallucinating.

After this year, I can make it through the post-partum DVD and her mat workout. That’s because last year I finally figured out how to convince myself to exercise regularly. Here’s how.

Self Discipline

As I mentioned above, exercise isn’t social for me; I prefer to keen on my hands and knees in the privacy of my own home. Also, getting to and from the gym eats up a lot of time. Unfortunately, the routine of the gym really helps me stick with regular exercise.

I desperately needed some self discipline, so last year I put a chart up on my wall — really it was just a small sheet of grid paper with a square for every day of the year. I decided I would move, at home, for 15 minutes each day and then check a box off when I did. I chose 15 minutes because it seemed like the bare minimum. Not doing it was the same as admitting I wasn’t willing to do anything at all.

The truth is, many days I’m not willing. On those days, I put a dot on the square I skip, and continue filling in boxes after it. Here’s my current chart, complete with typo, and a severe lack of motivation in the last few weeks:

But! I will eventually fill in all those dotted squares, I promise. Here’s the trick.

If I do an hour-long exercise DVD at home, which is what I often do, I get to check off three boxes — that day’s, plus two days I’ve skipped or two days I want to bank. That means, instead of punishing myself for skipping days, I just let myself make them up guilt free, as long as I do a few minutes more work than I’d have done otherwise. If I do an hour of something like walking, which doesn’t really get my heart rate up, I let myself check off two boxes.

Last year I went from sitting on the couch to working out about three times a week.

Results

Well, obviously I have muscles I didn’t have before. The first time I could hold a plank position for more than five seconds, I was completely shocked. That’s been the biggest surprise for me, the sense of accomplishment when I see evidence that I’m getting stronger.

As for the pain, exercise reminds my body that I need it, and so far my body is rising to the challenge. If I don’t exercise, my knees, hips, and shoulders start issuing death threats. If I do exercise, they stop complaining after a few workouts, which is a pretty good deal.

I had non-injury related surgery on my knee when I was 25, and the plan is to avoid doing that again. So I’m choosing to exercise in hopes of maintaining my ability to walk until I’m 100 or so. And if fifteen minutes a day keeps the wheelchair away, that’s some excellent motivation.

Next, we’ll talk about what I’ve been eating. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your tricks for convincing yourself to exercise.