Almost every single time I start thinking about beginning my semi-daily exercise routine I feel dread. But I’ve never once regretted
exercising once I’m done.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes when I start exercising or when I go to the gym, I feel like giving up in the middle of it all. Sometimes I do the easier exercises rather than the more difficult ones. Sometimes in gym class I’ll be so tired that I do things at half the pace as everyone else. And a couple of times I’ve started an activity and I’ve just completely given up after a few minutes. But that’s only happened when I’ve chosen to do something I’m completely unprepared to do.
My journey with exercise has been just that: a long and arduous journey. It’s taken me years to understand my body, its limitations, how far I can push it, and when I just need to rest. It’s taken me years to get myself into a mindset of exercising as regularly as I can, no matter where I am, and no matter what facilities are available to me. The one thing that has convinced me most to keep pushing forward is that I want to be fit enough to enjoy my life and to do fun and exciting things. I can’t enjoy hiking unless I have a decent level of fitness. I can’t decide to climb a mountain unless I have a high degree of fitness. Without a strong body, I can’t enjoy a good swim in the ocean, or a cycle in the countryside, or kayaking in the river. I’m 44-years-old now. I want to be able to do these things for many years to come. I can no longer depend on the strength that youth once naturally gave me to do things. I need to work hard to keep my body fit.
Exercising hasn’t just kept my body fit. It has also strengthened my mind. It takes great resolve and will power to keep on pushing forward. By getting involved in activities with other people, I’ve learned that age and circumstances are not a hindrance to a strong body. I have been going to a gym in the UK for the past three months and have seen men and women in their 70s so fit that they are the people I watch in class and try to keep up with. While hiking in the Alps, I’ve seen young parents carrying toddlers on their backs. I’ve also seen young seven-year-old children climbing in the Alps. And I’ve seen much older 60- and 70-year-olds hiking up steep inclines as if they’ve been doing it all their lives (they probably have). While running once in a 10 km race, I saw a man in his 50s who obviously had a stroke at one point in his life running with half his body limping to one side. He was way ahead of me.
I’ve learned that it’s easy to become too comfortable in an exercise routine. Easy in this case does not mean that you don’t break a sweat or feel pain while engaging in the routine. What it means is that you don’t want to diversify your routine and work other muscle groups or to push your body any further.
I’ve learned that you don’t need to pay a ridiculous amount of money to be fit. I’ve done the whole package. I’ve had a personal trainer. I’ve been a gym member. It’s nice when that’s available. But we don’t always have the means to join a gym or to get to one regularly. I’ve learned that going up and down stairs as fast as you can is a great way to work those leg muscles and have a good cardio workout. I’ve learned that jogging can be done in most kinds of weather. The cold and the rain certainly don’t kill you. I know that now. Running in the sun in 40 C temperatures, of course, is another story. But even then, wake up at dawn in very hot climates and you usually get quite nice weather. Or you can run after dark. Cycling costs no more than the price of a bike. You don’t even need a particularly good one to get in some good exercise.
In the Arab world, it isn’t always possible for women to cycle or jog on a main street. Sometimes all a woman needs to do is to just go out and do it and people eventually get used to seeing her out and about. Other times it’s more difficult. Find a group of men and women who cycle or jog together and join them. Or start a group yourself. And if worse comes to worse, buy a treadmill and run at home three times a week. Or run up and down the stairs in your apartment building like I frequently do. I’ve recently discovered exercise DVDs. They are great to use if you want a good full body workout in the privacy of your home and they are quite cheap compared to paying a gym membership.
I’ve learned to stop making excuses for myself. Oh, I still make them, thank you very much. But when I do make excuses I know I’m bullshitting myself. I still tell myself that it looks like I have a swollen belly because I gave birth to four children. That was 13 years ago now. I’ve seen women my age at the gym who also have children but who have worked so hard at keeping fit that they have six packs. So I know I just need to work harder on my abs routines. I’ll tell myself that I’m getting too old for some kinds of exercise. But then I see 70-year-old women running a 10 km race in sub-zero temperatures and I realize I need to shut up that voice in my head.
Every single morning I get up and dread the thought of having to do some exercise. Unless my body is telling me that it really needs a rest day, I’ll force myself to exercise anyways. After several years of doing this I now know how to recognize the real need for a rest day as opposed to the perceived mental need. If the Little Man in My Head is making up any number of excuses not to go to the gym or go out and jog in the cold, I’ll remind myself that not once have I ever regretted exercising. I usually feel very good afterwards even if I’m tired and in pain. I’ve grown to appreciate the muscular pains that come after a good workout and that usually stick with me for a couple of days afterwards. When those pains are gone I know I’ve been slacking and that I need to mentally slap myself back into the serious stuff.
I started exercising around the age of 35. Before that I hadn’t ever done anything that engages the muscles. Nothing. It took me about five years to become self-sufficiently regular in my exercising. Every time I spontaneously decide to go on a hike somewhere, I am grateful that I’ve kept up my exercising and that I am able to hike semi-comfortably. I’m probably the slowest runner in the world. I can’t jog on hilly terrain. I see old women exercise with heavier weights than I use at the gym. I frequently give myself a three-second rest to catch my breath while doing sets in gym class. I still can’t do press-ups. But I know that all I need is to keep it up and to push harder. I’ll get there one day. Whatever I do, exercise made me stronger than I was at 25, both mentally and physically. I’ve seen things and been places that many people only dream of. And I continue to plan for more adventures in the future.
I hate exercising. But I’m so grateful that I do it.