Are you ever driving along on a 100 degree day, or on a bitter -10 degree day, and you see someone running, but they don’t look happy at all? Instead, they look like they’d rather be doing anything else, but a voice inside their head has obviously told them that if they don’t keep running, they will immediately die? So, run they do, as if against their own will. I see these people all of the time, and while a very small part of me is inspired by their willingness to miserably soldier on, a bigger part of me is screaming, “WTF, WTF, WTF?”
I exercised pretty much only in an effort to lose weight for years. That was before the spinal meltdown that resulted in my having three discs become herniated and desiccated, and developing osteoarthritis at the age of 25. It was also before the osteopenia diagnosis at the age of 30. Nowadays, if I miss more than two days of exercise in a row, I feel it in all of my muscles and all of my bones. Also, I get pissy and I already seem to have an increased capacity for pissyness compared to the average person, so this is a very bad thing.
There are very specific types of activity that I can do and very firm rules about what I can’t do. Besides the physical therapist and the physical medicine doctor who got me back to living during a very depressing and physically painful time in my life, I owe a lot to Ellen Barrett, who teaches a method of exercise that incorporates yoga and pilates with low-impact cardio. And from Ellen Barrett I graduated to Barre, some yoga, and some other types of high intensity, low impact cardio. So, that’s how I got my body moving again.
Did it hurt at the beginning? I won’t lie, the first time that I exercised, my back went out for several days and it was a full month before I even attempted it again. The truth is, though, that it quickly became obvious that any residual pain from exercising was nothing compared to the pain caused by immobility. It’s been almost six years now, and I can honestly say that I exercise 5-7 times a week and have for pretty much six years straight. What makes me get up at 5:30 in the morning on weekdays, drink a cup of coffee, and get to it? Besides the fact that I know what happens if I don’t workout all too well, it’s because I truly enjoy the exercise that I choose to do.
It’s not about what’s popular to do, or what workouts celebrities are doing, or how much I spent on my workout wardrobe. Because, really, I just don’t care. It’s about what will get my day started in a way that makes me more physically and mentally ready to cope with whatever the rest of the day will bring.
The hardest thing for me is to continue to be mindful of my limitations while my level of fitness continues to improve. Sometimes I feel as if I could do more than what my body allows me to do, and I have done some things that I know I shouldn’t be doing. In the moment I somehow believe that I’m going to get away with – recently, jump squats got me. I know I’m not supposed to jump much, but I felt like my body could handle a little more intensity, and from an aerobic standpoint, it could handle more. My back did not agree with my heart’s assessment, however. My back could not handle more, and it let me know so in no uncertain terms.
This whole notion of exercising to feel good actually has a name these days – “rational fitness”. Rational fitness was a term first used in a viral Refinery29 blog post written by Kelsey Miller in July of 2016.
The basic tenants of rational fitness:
- The focus isn’t on how many calories you burn.
- You don’t force yourself to exercise more than you want to or that is good for you
- You work physical activity into your everyday routine – in other words, you move more throughout the day, instead of putting forth effort only at the gym.
- You don’t do workouts or exercises that don’t feel good. You don’t care what exercises are most “trendy” right now.
- You know that you can’t judge a person’s level of fitness by looking at them.
- You don’t waste time comparing yourself to others or criticizing others workouts or personal goals.
- You don’t exercise because of shame or guilt.
While no one would agree that damaging your body by pushing yourself harder and faster than you should is a good thing, in order to improve your level of fitness in a meaningful way, there will be times when you are sore or that you exercise even though you’d rather sit on the couch and watch your favorite show. Moderation can be an awfully hard concept to make sense of in a world that seems to focus on extremes, but surely it’s possible to strike a balance.