I confess, when I told my husband I was going to join some of my fitness class buddies in a challenge to exercise for forty days in a row, I was hoping he’d instantly be my cheerleader. Surprise! No such luck. “Why?” He bluntly asked with a decidedly NOT cheerleader look on his face. Ummmm, I wasn’t prepared for Mister Soccer Coach Hubby to ask that question. And clearly – in the frustrated silence that followed – I didn’t have a response.
After he left for work that morning, I sat in the kitchen trying to find the right answer. I got a little fired up and then in typical Martha fashion, I also got a bit defensive. Soon I was huffing and writing down a sensible list all the reasons I love to exercise. Next, I texted a friend. “I’m having a rough time getting motivated and want someone to give me a push,” I said (apparently I was still in the market for a cheerleader). In good form, she matter-of-factly responded with the best possible answer: Just go do it. You’ll feel better. Trust me.
Finally, I started to cry. I know, I know – it sounds utterly ridiculous. What? Tears? Really? “Are you pre-menstrual?” I chided myself. But it wasn’t that easy, because it then dawned on me that the reason I wanted to get into my body and out of my head for forty days was because I was feeling deeply sad. The specific culprit doesn’t really matter, at least not in this story. Suffice to say, there is shit that happens in life that doesn’t just knock the wind out of you for the moment. Sometimes we get flattened or thrown off course by Fate and the impact leaves us breathless for weeks, or months, or years. And sometimes, even though we’ve been able to get through something tough once, that doesn’t mean we might not feel a little out of balance when it comes sniffing around again.
My pull to exercise was an internal one. As a middle aging athlete, I’ve long been familiar with the mental and emotional perks of a good workout. In this human experience that includes bowing to the FACT that we are not in control of much – at all – save our faith and our attitudes, what I wanted those forty-odd days ago was to feel in control of one thing. If an hour of sweaty, panting, stinky – and ultimately joyful movement was going to help me find my sense of inner balance again, then I had discovered my particular answer to Aidan’s “why.”
On day thirty-nine of the forty day commitment, I found the infamous list on my iPad. I decided to finish it up. For those of you who are already athletic, I hope the list helps you stay the course. For those among you who have never been able to understand why anyone would choose to publicly break a sweat in lycra shorts or (worse) diaper-like saggy sweatpants, perhaps this will explain a few things and inspire you to go for a walk…..and then another one.
- To clear one’s head when it’s spinning or too full.
- To lighten one’s heart when it’s heavy.
- To experience what the body feels like when it’s working.
- To feel muscles being put to use, blood flowing and lungs pumping.
- To be – not just a jogger, or a cyclist, or a dancer, but to – “Be An Athlete.”
- Because a person who is an athlete is often a stronger, more vibrant and radiant version of who they are in their street shoes.
- Because we like to respect athletes, and it’s great to respect ourselves.
- Because being a role model of health is a great choice.
- Because being healthy and fit (in body, mind and spirit) opens doors to new experiences and adventures, and some of us want that until we slide dancing and laughing into the grave.
- Because exercise may lengthen your life and give you more time to be with the people you love.
- Because true athleticism is playful, thoughtful, passionate, and real.
- Because being an athlete requires personal resolve and inner strength. No one else can do it for you. (Note: no amount of cheerleading will make it happen!)
- Because being an athlete means being a part of a community of (often) like-minded people, and it’s good being a part of something positive with others.
- Because winning is sweet; even the smallest win – like simply taking 30 minutes and stepping out the front door for a brisk walk in the winter sunlight.
- Because losing is humbling. To lose reminds us to try again, to strive to improve, and be gracious.
- Because doing the work of becoming an athlete helps us better understand each other.
- It’s a life choice we can share with our children. It’s a joy to support each other; we are one another’s fans, coaches, trainers and teammates.
- Because exercise helps you sleep better.
- Because, when you feel defeated exercising can lift you up. (See #2)
- Because actually going to the gym/track/mountain trail/weight room/soccer field is something no one else can do for you. We live in a world saturated by people making excuses for what’s too hard (when it isn’t) or too scary (when it’s minor) or not convenient (you mean I can’t drive there?).
- The fact is, if you don’t get off your fanny and “just do it,” no one will feel the consequences more than you. No one else gives a rat’s rear end anyway. So go ahead, take responsibility for taking care of yourself.
- Exercise helps to blow off steam. (See #1)Finally, my especially personal reasons to exercise:
- Because as much as I love to buy new shoes (and I really, really do), I’m fairly cheap when it comes to jeans and skirts. Therefore, it behooves me to fit into some of the clothing that I fit into ten years ago. Besides, if you keep clothes long enough, they’ll eventually come back into style. Right?
- Because with endorphins come clarity. It shows up in small sparkling bursts of wisdom that you’d think at 51 years old I would be able to tap into any time, but alas – I’m flawed. Turns out the best advice I have for myself seems most accessible when I’m sweating through a kettle bell class or panting up a hill. Messages show up around the time that my legs begin burning, and I go into blissful overdrive. I hear things like: “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you” and “Have faith; be present” and “All (really) will be well.” I like those messages, so I like my endorphins.
- Because I have a theory that if I occasionally go workout right before dinner, my family will take the hint and whip up a tasty spread that will be waiting on the table upon my stinky sweaty return. Of course, I’m still testing this experiment. I’ll report back if it ever consistently holds true.
- And most importantly, I exercise because the hours I have spent being playful and moving my body with intent to be stronger, more balanced and more full of energy have decidedly been some of THE very best times in my WHOLE life. Playing tether ball with my mother in the backyard as a little girl, cross country skiing with my dad when I was a teenager, competing as a high school athlete, windsurfing on the Puget Sound, training for years with baby – and then toddler Sarah in a jogger stroller, finishing the Portland Marathon, swing dancing, cycling, skiing with Reid down the steep slopes of Mount Ashland while he quickly grew faster and more ballsy than I would (ever), hiking in the woods with Ginny on my back and then by my side, swimming alone in the perfectly turquoise water of the Caribbean, boogie nights in the kitchen, running stairs with Aidan the summer we fell in love, walking and talking with friends, walking and crying alone, laughing in fitness class, laughing at the scale, hula hooping on the back deck, celebrating being alive. These moments have put the shine on my life. And that’s why I exercise.