Sunday, November 9, 2008

My Advice to Friends on How to Get Physical, Part 1

Thanks to Dr. Barbara Berkeley of Refuse to Regain for her inspiration for this post today. On her post, she makes this request. . .

Until I was 35 years old, I never even considered exercising. My only exposure to sports was the occasional volleyball game we played in gym class. The idea of sweating was abhorrent to me. I can’t exactly tell you what happened to change all that.
So here’s the problem I need help with. Every day, day in and day
out, I see weight-loss patients who don’t want to exercise. They simply can’t imagine it. Although I suggest to them that they find exercise that they can fall in love with, they mostly wind up walking on a treadmill. Then they stop. I so much want to find the answer to this puzzle: how do I motivate people to try exercise? How do I get them to fall in love with it?
I think that the answers lie out there with you, dear readers. What would you tell a friend? What kind of program would you suggest they start? Or what did a friend tell you that finally got you to consider getting physical? This information is not trivial.
If we can figure this out together, we can make real progress in changing lives.
Suddenly I was flooded with thoughts. As I said to Barbara in my comment, “This is a heartstrung topic for me--something I've long struggled with. And it's a longing of mine to help children, in particular, who aren't active--but also adults, including myself.”

I was a kid who hated gym and physical activity. As early as first grade I remember trying to get out of recess! In second grade, I remember suffering great humiliation when the gym teacher singled me out to shoot hoops with a lighter weight volleyball instead of a basketball (he was actually trying to help me!).

I’ve never caught a ball in a glove or hit a ball with a bat. I was never in any after school teams. I never went to a school dance.

I chose my major in college because it didn’t require any PE credits!

I left my first few Weight Watchers meetings crying (when I was really young) because when they mentioned the need for activity, I would feel hopeless, like weight loss was out of my reach. I could go on and on and on . . . but you get the picture already.

So now, I am not fit. But I am getting fit. I still have never caught a ball in a glove, but I have a different appreciation for my body. And I do workouts and am more active. Mostly, I have worked on changing my identity, which of course takes time, with lasting results!

Here are a few of my tips and advice for you, my friend, based on my journey so far.

1. Don’t worry yet about needing to fall in love with exercise. If you’re like me, you’ve hated exercise for so long that someone telling you this is as alien as telling you to go find an alley rat and bring it home as a pet or go dig up bugs, cook them, and eat them. It feels that scary, gross, and foreign to you. It wouldn’t matter if all your neighbors had rats or freezers full of bugs.

2. Do start noticing and appreciating the human body more—a) yours and b) other people’s.

*** To do #2a, try this--stretch. Stretching makes me become conscious of deeply buried muscles in my body in a really cool way. And you don’t even have to get up.

Put one arm over your head and act like you are grabbing a rope. Feel the stretch in your back. Doesn't it feel good? Do it with the other arm.

Also, sit and bend at your waist. Reach out with both arms in front of you--reach and pull that imaginary rope. Doesn't it feel good to feel muscles you aren't usually conscious of?

*** To do #2b, try this. Gawk a little. You don’t have to be crude or obvious. But start taking notice of other people’s bodies. I found that not only did I not look at my own body before, but I didn’t really look at anyone else’s. The body is pretty amazing. It’s like a machine with lots of complex moving parts.

I remember going to see the play Chicago and being awestruck by how long, lean, and muscular the women’s legs were. I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

Once in my gym in Boston I was staring so long at this woman who was stretching (she could sit in an invisible chair and cross one leg and hold it forever without even shaking and she could hold the pose of her legs over her head and toes touching the floor), that I let water from the cooler flow over the top of my cup onto the floor.

I watch women in the locker room smoothing lotion on their legs after
a workout. I neglect this with myself. . .

3. Do get over your critical and holier-than-thou attitude about athletes, if you have one. I did. Throughout school I thought athletes were stupid. I resented the special privileges they got. I thought they were vain and shallow. I had to work to get more tolerant. They are just people with physical interest and talent. Like I have an interest in reading and a talent in academics. Some athletes are vain, some are not. Some are nice, some are mean. Just like everyone else.

4. Don’t deprive yourself of the benefits of physical activity any longer. You deserve to feel the benefits of moving your body. So what if your flab bounces in exercise clothes? Or you don’t even have “exercise” clothes? So what if you are breathless really quickly? You deserve to be in the gym or at the pool or wherever like everyone else. And it may surprise you to realize that no one is looking at you. It may surprise you even more when they even treat you just like any other exerciser--because that's what you are. And most exercisers focus on themselves and their own results.

5. Do consider exercise especially for large people or beginners. Here are 4 things I’ve done that were pivotal for me.

*** I spent some time checking out NAAFA, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. I particularly found Pat Lyons book, Great Shape, The First Fitness Guide for Large Women helpful when I was a true, sitting on the couch, exercise phobe and pre-newbie.

***I was really inspired when Oprah worked with her trainer—the first trainer Bob—Bob Greene in Make the Connection. She wasn’t fit and she pushed herself to try basically everything! And he made it clear that everyone needs to exercise at their own levels—a pushed level.

*** I’ve been a longtime fan and less consistent participant in water aerobics. It tends to attract larger people (It is highly unlikely that you will unlikely be the only fat person there in a bathing suit—and I’ve been to at least 4 gyms—public and private--in 3 states—North and South, so I’m pretty reliable.)

Not only does the water make you feel lighter, it makes you feel invisible—like you’re covered up to your shoulders! You can try moves there that you could not, would not ever do on land—like balancing on one foot. One of my favorite stretches is in the water—opposite hand reaching forward from the leg that you’ve stepped (or kicked) back—it gives a great full-body stretch. Try it you’ll like it.

***Another HUGE transition for me was going to a rehab facility fitness center instead of just a gym. I worked out with people in wheelchairs, blind swimmers, and people recovering from stroke or heart attack. We all had different needs. We all inspired each other. Some of them were athletes. I needed my doctor to write a recommendation for me (due to OA in my knees), but it was so worth it! Plus, personal trainers were a lot cheaper there!


  1. Oh (sigh) I read your post while having my morning coffee and contemplating a trip to the gym. I always feel *great* post workout, but it's getting there to do it. I'm also one that feels everyone is staring at me watching my fat, repulsed by my sweat, choosing not to use the open treadmill next to me in case fatness is contagious, or if they are beside me watching my stats on the treadmill. I actually wonder if they're thinking, "Geez, if she wasn't so fat she'd walk faster." Just to let you know...that I shall backstalk more on your blog later....when I get back from the gym. :)

  2. What a great post. Alley rats for pets and freezers full of bugs are fantastic images, by the way, that make your message so clear. I can't wait for part 2.

  3. While weight loss has not been my issue since I have gone vegan, but exercise has always been an issue. So, I got a dog and I take her on a 30 minute fast walk every day. It is beautiful outside and doesn't feel like exercise. I do this snow, rain or sun. I just try to be active every single day. Way more interesting than exercising.


I love comments. . . it lets me know I'm not alone! Please leave one.