Two years ago today I started yet another new exercise plan. I’d been stopping and starting with exercise over the previous year, but I just hadn’t been able to get it to stick. This time however, I’ve managed to keep it going. I’ve done some form of exercise at least 3 days a week for two years now. That consistent thread has led to a lot of learning and many other healthy changes in my life. As I approach the big 5-0 this year, I’m probably the healthiest I’ve ever been, but certainly in the last 3 decades. When I say “healthy” I mean more than regular exercise. Health encompasses exercise, nutrition, and mental health. When I look back over the last few years I’m kind of amazed at the transformation. What happened?
There are a few things that have helped me get on track and stay there. The most important though is that I found a very strong reason why I wanted to make these changes: I want to be able to be physically active and energetic as I age. Seriously, that’s it, but it works for me. Every time I’m looking at a workout I do not want to do or an unhealthy decision, I tell myself, “In 10, 20 years you will thank yourself for this small discomfort now.” I know the work I’m doing now will pay off in my well being down the road. I want to keep enjoying an active life for a very long time.
One event that really brought this to light for me was four years ago when my wife and I decided to start hiking. I used to love hiking and hadn’t done it in a long time. I was generally out of shape at the time, having been mostly sitting on my butt for years and eating and drinking whatever I wanted. Wow, on that first trip out I was miserable after a few kilometers. But I really wanted to hike because being out in nature feels so good to me and aside form the physical discomfort it was a lot of fun, so I figured I should start trying to sort out how to make it less painful. That began my off and on efforts with exercise and over time I found more and more things that I wanted to do. I also saw the effects of aging and poor health in family and friends, and the struggles that could have been mitigated with earlier healthy choices and prevention. That slowly solidified this feeling of why for me and then eventually the process itself became enjoyable in and of itself.
Everyone has their own why—or they don’t and they can’t stick with the change they think they want—but this is what drives me.
I knew I wanted my body to feel better and be more capable of the things I wanted. Back then, one of the big things holding me back from a lot of physical activity was my bad knee. I had been diagnosed with chondromalacia patellae in my 30s and told to never run or use my knee a lot in a bent position. So I spent the next two decades assuming I couldn’t do a lot with it, and it would hurt whenever I did “overuse” it, including going for long hikes or doing beginner workouts with squats and lunges. I had a pretty big mental block about what I could and could not do. I really wanted to figure this out though, so after much encouragement (prodding) from my wife, I decided to go to a physical therapist and see what the current situation with my knee really was and how I could be more confident when using it. That changed everything for me. I strengthened my neglected leg and the pain reduced significantly, and more importantly I learned how to read my body’s pain more clearly and figure out when I could push it and when I should back off. Best money I’ve ever spent on my health. With this new confidence, I felt I could begin to really explore what my body could do.
Gaining that confidence to forge ahead with exercise set me up to start trying a number of things to get more fit. I started working out off and on. I’d work out for a month or so, feel better and then chill for a few months. My hiking got a lot more enjoyable and I felt good about not letting myself sink into a worse physical state, and at least keeping things on an even keel. Over time my newfound physical confidence made me want to take better care of my body generally. Well, to take better care of me, as a whole. It was an important mental shift.
The switch that happened 2 years ago was that I decided to get serious about making a long-term change to healthier habits. I liked that I was feeling more fit and capable, but I knew that the older I got the harder it would be to keep pushing into new territory without having a sustainable routine in place. I needed to make this a long-term part of my daily life if I was going to keep it up for decades to come. At the beginning of 2019 I set out to try out a new habit per month. The idea was to try it out and if I liked it and stuck, great. If not, that was OK too. I tried all kinds of things that year: exercise, meditation, journaling, etc. Not everything stuck, but exercise, journaling and alcohol reduction are the ones that have really stayed around over the years. I also started playing around with finding a sustainable way of eating healthily that felt good. That’s been a longer road to sort out and didn’t really get dialed in until this past year. So at this point, I exercise 3-5 days/week, journal every day, and eat a healthy diet, and it’s all just part of my life. I don’t find it a burden or feel like I’m denying myself something. I feel like I’m really caring for myself.
I have a lot more to say about what I’ve done over the last 2 years and what my new goals are for the future. In particular, I’ve definitely had ups and downs, especially as a middle-aged woman starting perimenopause. I’d like to dive into each of the main 3 categories where I’ve made changes: exercise, nutrition, and mental health. We’ll see if I can get more blog posts written soon. I’m not going to push myself on it though, so I make no promises. If you are interested in hearing more or have specific questions though, let me know.