I love that I don’t really have to spend anytime here touting the benefits of exercise. Weight loss, reduced cholesterol, and elevated mood and energy—really, no infomercial needed at this point to market exercise as good thing to do, right?
Yet, what’s one of the biggest areas of challenge clients want to address? Getting more exercise into their schedules. What’s the one of the first things to drop off the schedule when crunching against a deadline or parenting a sick child? You guessed it. The big ol’ E word.
As I see it, there are two major issues that show up. If you have the first one solved, bear with me for a paragraph. Back in the olden days, exercise came with a level of practicality. You milked the cows, you plowed the fields, you washed the laundry in the river. If you didn’t exercise, you didn’t eat. The motivation to exercise was pretty high. These days, people find exercise BORING. What’s the motivator? Going round and round on an escalator belt? Thank you, no, I’d rather–fill in the blank: do laundry so I have clean underwear, make school lunches so my kids eat, work enough hours that I can pay my mortgage, and on it goes.
To establish a consistent exercise routine, one needs to be extremely creative in tricking the brain into playing along. When I first started walking on the treadmill, television worked. Then I changed over to talking with my dad on the cell phone while he walked in a different state. When I picked up the pace and started running, I moved to music. Learning to swim was an unexpectedly good next step for me. I had no time to get bored while I was working hard not to drown. When I mastered the basics, I found I was having more fun than I figured was really permissible if I was going to call it “exercise.”
Which leads me to my second point. Once we find a way to have fun and enjoy ourselves while exercising, the activity often gets ditched in deference to the things we think we should, ought to, better be doing instead. Lesson planning for tomorrow’s class? Essential. Enjoying myself for a half-hour in the pool? A luxury. Again, we are practical people by nature, and essential wins out over fun time and time again.
What if, what if, what if, we took on that having fun is essential? What if we believed that half an hour of taking care of ourselves, having a great time, was actually the most important thing we could do to keep our bodies running well for everything else? Given all that we are asking our body to do in a given day, one could argue that putting some gas in the tank is the least we could do to keep it running. What if we viewed exercise—redefined as having fun while being in motion–was the high-octane fuel we need to keep going?
It took everything I had to detach myself from my computer, large deadlines looming, and go for the run today that I promised myself. The sun ducked behind a cloud, and the sky opened up, and I laughed at the downpour and puddles I found myself running through. Because of that run, I had more energy this evening to parent through a rough bedtime. I am writing articles at a time of day I would ordinarily be falling asleep. That half hour of fun recharged my batteries and increased my productivity for the rest of the day. Just remind me of that tomorrow when I have to talk myself back out the door to go for a bike ride.