About four years ago, I came to the conclusion that I really, really needed to start exercising. I’m a web developer, so I sit in front of a computer all day. And then I like to write, so I sit in front of my computer all night. I knew it wasn’t healthy for me to be stationary all day, I knew I wasn’t eating as well as I should’ve, and so finally I hit the moment that was “I have to do something about this.”
It wasn’t like something big or horrible happened. It was just the slow realization that if I continued as I was, in a few years, I wouldn’t be very happy with how I looked or how I felt, and my risks for a number of diseases that run in my family would skyrocket. And the longer it took me to get started on a healthier lifestyle, the harder it would be for me to stick with it when I finally got there.
For years I’d had a goal like “lose 10 pounds” or whatever as one of my New Year’s resolutions, and for years, I’d never hit it. That year, I switched it up to “work out at LEAST 3 days a week.” I figured I would see if I could stick to a 3-day-a-week plan, and if so, I’d bump it up to 5 days for the next year. Even if I didn’t lose any weight, at least I would be building the habit of being active on a regular basis, and that could only be good, right?
What I ended up actually doing was finally saying “yes” to working out with my roommates, who were in the middle of doing P90X.
I wasn’t just working out three days a week; I was working out 6 days a week. And I stuck with them through P90X, P90X2, and Body Beast. I did lose about 5-6 pounds that I’d been wanting to, but more importantly, I noticed my energy level was better. I had better balance and flexibility than I’d ever had in my life. I felt stronger and I slept better on days that I worked out.
And not to mention, I made working out a habit, and now I feel weird if I go more than 3-4 days without doing something, at least.
Working out is a lot like writing, in that it’s really about figuring out what works best for you and what you’ll stick with to get the job done. Here’s what finally worked for me, for getting regular physical exercise in my schedule while still having time for all the other necessary things in my life:
1) Find the time.
Finding a time that works for you and your schedule is one of the hardest parts. For about the first two years after I started, I would exercise after work with my friends. Which was great, except we finish work at 6, and if we work late, then we wouldn’t get started exercising until 7, which meant it would be after 8 when we finished, and that meant dinner wasn’t happening until nearly 9 p.m.
I tend to get most of my writing done in the evening, so if I had to work out and either make or clean up dinner, then it was close to 10 at night before I could get started writing. And that really, really wasn’t working for me. And if it was during NaNo, when I have write-ins twice a week? Exercising would be sacrificed every single time.
So I started looking at my schedule for a better time to work out, and decided to bite the bullet and try mornings.
And really, that’s been the best for me. I get up between 7 and 7:15, which gives me a good 30-45 minutes to do an exercise program before I need to shower and get ready for work. It helps me wake up (always a plus) and gives me energy to start the day, and that means my evenings are completely free to focus on writing.
It also means dinner at 7:30 p.m. instead of 9, which is always a plus.
So, give a few different times a try and see which one works best for you, both your schedule and your energy level. It may take a few months to iron out something that fits your schedule best, but it’s totally worth it once you do.
2) Find the program.
If you had asked me in college or shortly after what my favorite kind of workout was, I would’ve said cardio, mostly because I liked walking/jogging around campus. Years later, I was still saying that, at that point because it was the only kind of workout I’d ever done and “girls aren’t supposed to lift weights.”
Then my roommate wanted to try Body Beast, which is an exercise program that focuses entirely on resistance training, aka lifting weights. I was extremely skeptical.
A week after we started the program, I was in love. Resistance training is my jam, and I would never have figured it out if I hadn’t given it a try. I love the routine of it, how simple the moves are and how you can focus on getting the moves exactly perfect. And because I actually enjoyed how I felt after resistance training, I did much better at sticking with the Body Beast program than I did with the others.
Figure out what kind of workout you enjoy doing the most, and trust me, not only will you feel better physically, but it’ll be easier for you to stick with the program.
(And honestly, I love workout programs because I don’t have to think about what workout to do. I just look at the calendar, go “oh, today is legs day,” and put in the DVD. Workout calendars for the win.)
3) Find the mindset.
This is, oddly, the most important component. Yes, you will need all the others, but if you don’t have the “this is my lifestyle now” mindset, you’re not going to stick with the program. You’re going to slip back into old habits because they’re easy, and change is hard, and working out sucks at times (I hate cardio days with a passion). Or you’ll hit your goal, go “great! I’m done,” and before you know it, you’re right back to where you started.
For me, switching from “I’m going to lose 10 pounds this year” to “I’m going to work out at least 3 days a week and maintain that” is what finally, finally got me off my ass and got me started moving. It’s that mindset of “establish a routine that will make me healthier in the long term.”
One of the worst mistakes people make–hell, that I made–is thinking of exercise and eating healthier as something you only need to do for “a while.” And if you’re really serious about keeping yourself in better shape, that’s not the case. It’s something you need to do on a regular basis, something that becomes part of your routine.
The unexpected bonus:
Perhaps the best part of finally getting regular exercise into my schedule is that I don’t feel guilty about writing so much anymore. Before, I would feel like a slug, and there would be this voice poking me in the back of my head, saying that I needed to do something other than sit on my ass all day.
But now? That voice is gone, because I know I’m taking better care of myself than I used to. It feels like there’s a weight off me, and that makes it so much easier to write.