Today’s post is involves a little bit about my own experience with exercise, why I took a break from running for a few years, and how I started again. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling compelled to work out because of rules or expectations you’d set for yourself, this post may help you to set healthier boundaries regarding the role you allow exercise to play in your life.
In the beginning, I didn’t really like exercise.
I don’t know why I joined the cross country team in 6th grade, but I did, and I hated it. I also hated gym class, and playing tag, and other things that felt like they took a lot of physical effort without any reward. So, joining a sports team that was all about running really didn’t make any sense at all. My dad, in an effort to teach me about commitment, encouraged me to finish out the season. So I stayed, and then I joined again the next year, and the next.
By eighth grade, I’d realized that if I complained less and just tried a little harder, I was actually pretty good at running, which made it much more enjoyable. I went on to run for my high school’s varsity team, and even competed in races on my own during the off-season. However, all that running started to take a toll on my health. I wasn’t able to maintain a healthy weight, and honestly I felt a little neurotic. So, I took a break from exercise altogether because it became evident that my body needed rest, and my mind needed to do some re-evaluation of my priorities.
So how did running become a habit again?
When exercise came back into my life, it took the form of walking and yoga, which was the healthiest choice for me for a couple years. When I finally set out to run again, I had to be really honest with myself about my motivation. I needed to make sure that I wasn’t running out of compulsion, but rather that I was acting in a way that was honoring to my health. So, I created some guidelines to help hold myself accountable:
- I made sure to be free of goals and expectations. That meant I wasn’t trying to run for a certain number of miles or minutes. I started by just walking out the door and circling the block until I felt like I was done. Some days I spent more time, some days I spent less. And that was okay.
- I checked in with myself throughout the process. If I got tired, I stopped. When I felt like running again, I ran. When I set out the next session, I was really intentional about listening to my body’s signals instead of trying to match a run/walk session from the past. Being present is and was really important for me.
- I reflected on the experience. One of the reasons I started running again was because I was genuinely curious about how it would feel. In the past, running had been all about pushing through pain, and I didn’t want that to be how exercise looked in my life. So, when I ran again, I took some time to reflect on how my body and mind felt in the hours and days that followed. For me, I noticed less stress, more energy, better sleep, and a clearer mind. This was incentive to keep it up!
- I set boundaries for myself. Medically, I knew that it wan’t necessary to engage in intense exercise more than a couple days per week, for more than half an hour at a time. With a history of a complicated relationship with exercise, it was important for me to establish clear boundaries for myself so I didn’t fall into unhealthy patterns. While I don’t think strict rules are necessary all the time, I have put a “cap” on the number of more intense exercise sessions (like running) per week for myself.
What does running look like now?
Nowadays, I run two to three times per week, for fifteen to thirty minutes. I also enjoy long walks and the occasional yoga session. These activities are inherently enjoyable for me, they easily fit into my lifestyle, and I generally feel better after doing them than I do beforehand. I also don’t have to dedicate large blocks of time to completing these activities, which allows them to supplement my life, rather than drain my life. Sometimes I listen to music, podcasts, or sermons, and sometimes I just listen to the sound of the birds. Running, in and of itself, is enjoyable for me, and that’s how I know it’s serving to promote the health of my body and mind rather than detract from it.
I want to make it clear that I don’t believe it’s necessary to run in order to be healthy. As long as you do something (anything!) a few times per week to move your body in a way that feels good to you, that’s all that matters. A lot of my friends really enjoy cycling or weight lifting, for example, but that isn’t true of me. I don’t like how I feel during or after heavy lifting, so I maintain strength and flexibility with yoga, and steer clear of the weight machines at the gym during this season of my life. Maybe that will change one day, maybe it won’t. But for now, I know that running and yoga work for me. It’s important that you find what works for you as an individual!