Every year I make the same New Years resolution – to work out at the gym consistently the entire year. Now, I’ve been very consistent with exercise for about 15 years now. After my asthma doctor told me that regular cardio could help build my lung capacity, I bought a cheap elliptical machine at Sears. Then I started training for 5k races and even a half-marathon at 30 years old.
However, something has kept me from being consistent with exercise throughout an entire year. It would usually happen in the Fall when the kids went back to school, the days are shorter and the nights are longer, and it’s really hard to go to and leave the gym in the dark. Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder kicks in and I just want to sleep, not get up early and be one of the first at the gym when it opens.
But not this year…I was consistent with a gym routine this entire year. I think there are a few factors that might have contributed to this.
- The best way for me to rid my body of anxiety is through cardio. It just is. I’m not a meditator. I’ve tried. And deep breathing can relax me in the moment I am on the verge of a panic attack. But consistent exercise is the only thing I have found that keeps a handle on my anxiety.
- One reason my anxiety level was so high in 2019 was grad school. Adding grad school on top of working full-time and raising 4 kids was hard. Adding a 16 hour a week practicum Fall semester on top of working full-time and raising 4 kids was damn near impossible. Going to the gym kept my stress and anxiety at bay all year long. I credit this self-care routine to me earning a 4.0 all three semesters I was in grad school in 2019.
- For a lot of the year I’ve had a work-out buddy. A friend I met in grad school just happened to have a membership to the same gym as me and was willing to go with me at 5 a.m. It’s really easy to let yourself down at 4:30 a.m. when the alarm goes off and you just want to sleep. It’s much harder to let your friend down who’s counting on you to show up. Thanks friend!
- I bought myself a FitBit with my Holiday bonus early in the year. I’m very competitive with myself. It’s the reason I’m an overachiever, take on all the things, push myself to do better, relentless, kind of person. It’s funny, because I’m not competitive with other people because that’s just too much work. Tracking exercise, daily steps, and sleep has been a miracle to me this year. Just being able to track my sleep patterns has made me real honest about the amount I’m sleeping and has me committed to a routine bedtime.
Exercise for me is a reward. It hasn’t always been. I think a lot of us want to punish our bodies with exercise because so much is reflected back to us in our culture that we’re not enough. Once I changed my mindset about a decade ago to one of exercise as a reward and part of a healthy self-care routine, my relationship with exercise has completely changed. There are a lot of health benefits to exercise that have exactly nothing to do with the shape and mass of your body. They are:
- It’s true what Elle Woods says. “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. And happy people don’t shoot their husbands.”
- Exercise has been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety in anxious people like me.
- Exercise helps build and maintain strong muscles and bones, something that is majorly beneficial as we age. I may have an old lady bedtime, but I don’t want old lady brittle bones.
- Exercise boosts your energy. I know for me this is absolutely true. If I don’t start my day out with some cardio, I don’t have the energy to get through the rest of it.
- Regular exercise can help you relax and sleep better. Studies have shown that 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week can provide up to a 65% improvement in sleep quality.
My love of exercise would be shocking to the version of me that is younger than 25. I’m not athletically inclined in the least. I have no amount of grace. I don’t like playing or watching team sports. But put me on a spin bike and I can hang with the hardcores. Sixteen-year-old Risa who came home from high school every day to a bowl of cheetos and reruns of the first four seasons of The Real World would laugh herself into an asthmatic coughing fit if you told her at some point in the future she would be willing to wake up before the sunrise to be at the gym by 5:00. Truth be told, forty-one-year-old Risa is kind of in denial that she does this every day as well.
All this to say…I kept a New Years resolution…a really hard resolution…and dammit, I’m proud of myself.