Guys! Guess what! I just ran my first 5K. I was so smug afterwards. I have these really weird friends who think running races together passes for fun. I know, I know: a 5K is small potatoes to some of you uber athletes I watched tear past me on the way to the finish line. I’m no iron man. My pals and I ran the 5K and then drank like we had completed a marathon. But if you know any of my history at all, the fact that I ran a 5K race at all is really quite miraculous. I am proud.
I was born to a sluggish family, you see, a long line of TV viewers whose ability to keep the couches from floating off the floor is well documented. We love to WATCH sports, sure. We may have even made some drunken threats in the living room about suiting up for our college football team because they were stinking up the joint. Somehow these threats were never realized.
To actually move? To say I am not athletically inclined is to be quite kind. I, sadly, am clumsy. There’s no way around it. I was born splay-footed and with the vision (if not the loveable affability) of Mr. Magoo. My hand-to-eye coordination was and is non-existent. I frequently walk into door jambs and knock over wine glasses (okay, that may not be so much about my coordination). I was raised with the idea that to run without anybody chasing you was pure absurdity.
Oh, but Momma tried. First it was gymnastic classes. I found that if I was very, very, quiet on gym class day (and mom had a couple of cocktails with lunch), mom might forget to take me. I remember holding my breath as we drove around after school: would she remember the lesson? No? SCORE. Me: 1. Balance beam: 0. My trying to bounce over a pommel horse was comedic gold. My cartwheels were more like flat tires.
Then there were tennis lessons I didn’t want when I was ten. That ended badly when my parents showed up early to pick me up from one of these lessons and discovered my plan to merely hang around on the park benches and not participate in them. At all. I’ve repressed a lot of my parents’ reaction to my genius scheme, but I think mom and dad took turns driving home so they could beat me. This was my first experience with being grounded. But it worked: no more tennis lessons were scheduled for the likes of me.
My next foray into moving was as a teenager. It was the 80s, the time of Jane Fonda, her striped leotard, and her damnable legwarmers. I do wish I had a dime for every butt lift I did in the privacy of my room, Jane spinning on the turntable, encouraging me to squeeze….squeeze while Jimmy Buffet crooned “Changes In Attitude, Changes In Latitude.” Oh, how I did cuss Jane.
I bounced through aerobics classes. Now these classes are called “Zumba” or “Jazzercise” or what have you, but in the end, a bunch of people bouncing around like mental patients while trying not to sock each other with flailing limbs is the same no matter what the decade. My desire to throat punch cheerful work-out class teachers, resplendent in pony tails that mean business, has not changed over time, it turns out. And I discovered I never, never want to be in front of a full length mirror bouncing again. No matter how iron clad the undergarments. It’s just not wise. Trust me. Nobody wants to witness that.
So then college, and twelve ounce curls of beer cans were pretty much the extent of my exercise there for awhile. And my health (and girth) showed the impact of my sloth-like attitude. I had pretty much accepted a life of being overweight and inactive. But I met a friend who simply wasn’t having it. She showed up, uninvited, nay, truly unwanted, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. I found my heinie being hauled out for long walks against my pudgy will.
I really did find a joy in exercise at that point. But then life: marriage, a move, three kids in four years…and boom. Sedentary again. My weight was under control by now…so why bother? But as the stress of keeping all my proverbial balls in the air built, I was learning more and more about the healitive powers of exercise for mental health. It was annoying, really, how an exercise program was correlated with recovery from everything: cancer. Depression. Substance dependence. Dammit. There was going to be no way around it.
So when I re-committed to an exercise program, it was the first time I wasn’t trying to narrow the size of my butt but instead manage my moods. It was time to start being an example to my clients. The idea of working out when it wasn’t about how I looked was alien.There was no product of a pant size or number on the scale I was trying to reach. There was only process of revving up the machine and hopefully staying sane.
So the rumors are true. Exercise is really the magic bullet. There are no two ways around it. But I’ve discovered something else about an exercise regime: you get better at stuff over time. You can run instead of walk. You can run faster and longer over time. You can pick up heavier and heavier loads. And with each fitness goal accomplishment, there is a confidence you acquire that no one can take away from you.
And now I’m putting my program to work for the community by setting goals of completing charity runs. My workout is now more meaningful in every way. My values of self-care and community service are dovetailing, and I love it. Not to mention when there’s a bar at the end of the course. It’s the perfect carrot on a stick.
Now you. If I can do it, anyone can do it. Just start. Take one french fry off your plate. Walk in place during the commercials of your TV shows. Start anywhere. It doesn’t matter. But the way you’ll feel when you achieve your first goal (which may be just starting) will be addictive. Do it. Set a goal, no matter how small it seems to you. Meet it. Set another. Watch how you feel better. Move. It works. And it’s a lot cheaper than therapy. Wait. What?