Does exercise matter?

This morning I felt happy. I was having a delicious breakfast: a croissant and a coffee protein shake. The sun was shining. A wonderful breeze fanned my lanai. I was reading a good book (A girl of the Limberlost). When I feel this great, I usually stop and asks myself: what is making me feel this way right now? Because the truth is I don’t feel happy nearly as often as I ought to. The sun shines often in Hawaii yet I don’t always notice it and it certainly doesn’t always cheer me up. For me (and I bet it is so for a lot of women), happiness depends heavily upon my hormones. If my hormones are in sync, then I am able to appreciate all the goodness around me. Everything seems a little bit brighter.
I haven’t found the magic pill yet but there is one thing that comes close: exercise.
I know. I get it. We’re all tired. We’re all busy. We all have stuff to do. We don’t have energy nor time to spare. The truth is we find time to do what matters to us. The key then is to decide that exercising matters. Once it matters enough, we make it happen more often than not. An attitude shift is required to go from: “I can’t exercise because… (fill in the blank) to how can I exercise despite…(fill in the blank)”.

My own relationship with exercise has evolved over the last few decades.

As a kid I was fairly active: playing soccer, basket ball and riding my bike around.
In middle school, badminton was my thing. I even won competitions.
In high school, I stopped all sports. My interest was in boys and otherwise non wholesome activities. And I smoked.
Then I married a professional martial artist. I started martial arts training. I quit smoking too.
Just before trying for a baby I was at my peak. I exercised 5 days/week. We went to the gym to lift weights and do cardio Monday through Friday. I also joined in our twice weekly group classes (3 hours each time). Most weeks we grappled at home as well. That’s a lot of exercise. We had the luxury of time during that season of our life and it helped that our work essentially was working out. I had become an athlete.

When my daughter was born six years ago I stopped going to the gym. I also stopped going to our martial arts classes. A few other things stopped as well. Like sleep. If I could get four hours in a row, I was thrilled. Exercise was not a priority and it didn’t need to be.

Just after her first birthday, life got a little easier. I decided to join Stroller Strides. The classes were held at a nearby beach park. Having a reason to get out of the house was wonderful. Moving, sweating, breathing the fresh salt air was good for my body. Meeting other moms, socializing afterwards, chatting, laughing was good for my soul.

When my daughter turned two she started sleeping a bit later in the morning (as in 6.30 am instead of 5.30 :-). Making it to the early morning classes was more challenging. At that time of my life, taking the extra sleep made sense. Instead of going to stroller strides, we went for walks almost every morning. I also did hot yoga 2-3 times a week. (Unfortunately I had to stop yoga because it made my back sore- true story).

When my daughter turned three, we signed her up for Capoeira and I decided to join as well. That one class every Saturday was enough exercise to last me a week and keep me in shape. It made me stronger and more flexible.
For the next three years, my exercise regimen consisted of that one weekly 90 minutes session. (A few months ago, after I turned 40, I decided to stop Capoeira and claim that time for writing instead.)

I was stronger. I was sleeping well most nights. Parenting life was easier. I was ready for and craved more exercise but I didn’t have much time. We were doing our first year of homeschooling, my husband was dealing with complications from Ulcerative Colitis and ended up undergoing surgery. Signing up for a class would have required securing childcare, getting dressed and driving somewhere. Instead, I chose to head straight to my carport with my Ipad and bluetooth headphones and follow along with a workout video. A first for me. Thirty minutes tops from start to finish. I first started with Jillian Michaels videos and later discovered PopSugar Fitness (that Youtube channel is great because it lets you pick your workout length: between 5-45 minutes). My daughter, who was then 5,  would happily play in the yard or join me for a few reps of bicep curl. This routine worked very well for us for a while.

I recently switched things up yet again. I don’t do the Youtube videos any more as my body needed a rest from the high impact moves. I grapple 10-20 minutes with my husband four mornings per week. I also complete a routine prescribed by my physical therapist (mainly wall sits and lunges) and it has made me noticeably stronger (I can even see some muscles in those thighs!).

Exercise can take many forms. It doesn’t have to look a certain way or last at least 30 minutes a day to count. It just has to work for you and your circumstances right now.
It takes constant readjusting because life doesn’t go in a straight line. When something doesn’t feel quite right or when I notice that I am not as motivated, I look for the why behind it. Sometimes I am bored and need a shiny new workout. Sometimes I am aching too much and need to eliminate something. Sometimes I need a complete break and feel no guilt in taking it because I am confident that exercise will remain a constant in my life.

I need it to be happy. And though I’ll concede working out doesn’t always feel good.

Feeling happy does.

PS: For the sake of complete transparency, let it be known that I haven’t exercised at all in the past couple of months. And I haven’t felt very happy so I’m ready to start again.

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