My Relationship with Exercise
When I was writing about exercise for The Wisdom of Menopause, my then 74-year-old mother was leading a group of women on a hiking expedition in the Adirondacks. Most of the women were in their thirties. The day before my mother started her expedition, she mowed the huge lawn on the farm where I grew up, watered the flowers, and played two sets of tennis. After that, she “took a break” to visit a relative in a nursing home, then went out to play 18 holes of golf. My mother’s physical condition and prowess have helped me realize that physical decline and weakness do not need to be a natural part of growing older.
However, her physical activity level is very high, to say the least. And, although I have learned not to use it as a standard for myself, it has taken me most of my life to realize that I don’t need to aspire to her level of activity, and I still have some unfinished business around sports and exercise. Unlike my mother and siblings who were very interested in jogging, hiking and skiing and other energetic activities, I preferred to read and listen to music. Yet, every family vacation we took revolved around sports. Every hike was a race to the summit and every activity felt competitive. I longed for a Christmas morning when everyone would not race out to the slopes for a “few quick runs” and wished we could all sit around and talk while drinking hot cocoa. Since this was never going to happen, my only chance to connect with my family was to join in their athletic activities. Nonetheless, my sports skills always lagged behind those of my family. I specifically remember my father telling me that I swung a tennis racquet like a broom when I was 13.
Finally, at mid-life, I decided it was time to release this baggage. I began taking tennis lessons, more as therapy than anything else. By the end of the summer I was able to play pretty well and even played doubles with my mother and brother. But I didn’t stop there. I began to transform my fitness past by participating in activities that pleased me and not as a way to win family approval. Now I’ve learned to do only those activities that feel right, and I love exercise more than I ever did. My current exercise routine includes two to three Pilates sessions per week, one with a trainer in a studio and a couple mat sessions at home. I first learned Pilates so that I’d have a fitness program I could do while traveling. It works. The mat work can be done anywhere. I do at least 20 minutes on an elliptical trainer almost daily and take an hour-long walk about four days per week, depending on the weather. I was introduced to weight training using The Firm aerobic workouts with weights. Although I now use other weight-training regimens, I used The Firm for over ten years, and they are very effective.
Starting an exercise program can seem intimidating, especially if you have not been exercising regularly. The important thing is to just start somewhere. Put on some music and dance for a while and see how it feels. Take a walk and enjoy your surroundings without putting any pressure on yourself with regard to how far or fast you walk. Just do something to wake up your muscles. Focus on your breathing so you don’t push beyond what is comfortable. Keep up your new form of movement for one month — that’s how long it takes to create a habit. Once you form the habit of exercising, start setting some attainable goals for yourself. The added benefit of exercise is that your body will start to crave foods that are good for you and you may see your diet improve without consciously making the effort to change it.
Here are some guidelines that may help you get started with an exercise program you will enjoy:
- Choose any activity, sport or form of exercise you enjoy. If you can’t think of one, try to remember your childhood when you were outside playing. What did you love then? Was it dancing and twirling or running and skipping? When you are ready, bring your body and mind back to the present and begin moving your body the way you used to.
- Make a commitment to yourself. Commit to moving your body in some way you love at least three times per week. You will start to appreciate the time you spend exercising for how it makes you feel.
- Learn how to nose breathe.
- Don’t sabotage your efforts. Remember, balance is the key to a successful diet and exercise program. Don’t push yourself to exhaustion or overeat to compensate for tough workouts.
- Have fun. The more you enjoy exercise the better your chances of sticking with it!
Learn More — Additional Resources
- The Wisdom of Menopause, by Christiane Northrup, M.D. See Chapter 12: “Standing Tall for Life: Building Healthy Bones.”