Exercise regimens are like the things people dream at night: I don’t want to hear about them because they are boring.
But sudden mental shifts and new habits that end up changing the whole texture and feelings of people’s lives? That’s okay. I can write and read and talk about that for at least, like, 15 minutes (unless it’s about how adding spinach or kale to your breakfast smoothie will “make you glow”, because that frankly is just crap – I’ve been adding green stuff to my smoothies a lot lately – including rocket, which I do not advise – and I have noticed exactly nothing different about myself as a result), which is an age in Internet-attention-span time.
So, here’s how moving to a new office has changed my life (in a quite unexpected way).
At my old job, every lunchtime was an event for me and my colleagues (who were also my actual friends). There was always a cute new eatery to try, or a new place to get sandwiches from – or an old but trusted place to get sandwiches from. There was shopping to do (mostly at factory shops and for baby clothing) and, on sunny days, lots of strolling around the city that just had to get done. And other than the few blocks of (very laid-back) strolling I’d do just about every day, and the odd day here and there that I walked the four flights of stairs to my desk, during the three years I worked there, I did absolutely no exercise.
Then, a month ago, I moved to an office where none of my actual friends work. Where all my colleagues smoke, and use up their lunch hour in four 15-minute smoke breaks (this is what I assume – they take long smoke breaks and then eat lunch at their desks – I’m not sure if there’s a proper system to it or not). So at lunchtime, because I can’t bear not to leave the office all day, I go to the gym four days out of five.
Yes. Me. I go to the gym. Four days a week. Me!
Three of the days, I warm up for 10 minutes on that pully-runny-eliptical machine and then run two to three kilometres on the treadmill (I’m trying to do between 8 and 10kms per week, a distance I chose because it seemed kind of achievable). On the fourth day, I do something resembling “cross-training” (which is apparently important but I don’t really care enough to look up why and how to do it properly) – I do some leg weight things and climb the stair machine and do the ergo-rowing thing that makes me feel like I look really stupid but it makes my arms stiff, so it must be doing something. I suppose.
Thirty minutes four times a week is a bit less than is recommended as a minimum time spent exercising – and it’s certainly not a lot for people who are “naturally” athletic, or proper runners. But for me, this is major, because my whole life I’ve hated exercising, especially running, and now suddenly I don’t.
I’ve hated exercising basically forever.
I don’t remember ever actually choosing to get my heart rate up (not by exercising, anyway). I had quite bad asthma as a kid and teenager, which made pretty much any amount of field sports really tiring and really unpleasant. And because I was (and am) such a co-ord, ball sports made me feel really bad about myself. We used to play rounders in primary school on a Wednesday afternoon as part of our academic timetable (which I still think of as being discriminatory to bookworms like myself who had to suffer through compulsory sport five afternoons a week as well – and yes, I know sports is hugely important for kids, but, I argue, so is self-esteem) and I was always the last person chosen to be on a team. Being forced to do something I was really bad at did not compel me to be any better at it, or to enjoy it, and the stigma against exercise stuck until I hit my early 20s and suddenly wasn’t skinny anymore.
So I tried running.
I ran the Two Oceans half marathon when I was 25 after far too little training, but made a decent time mostly because my future mother-in-law literally dragged me the whole way and fed me a lot of pills on the route that I’ve never had the nerve to ask about (Amphetamines? Schedule 1-million painkillers?). After bursting into tears at the finish line (aches all over my body making their presence known as soon as the mystery pills wore off), my stigma against exercise in general and running in particular returned with a vengeance.
Then I tried yoga.
About a year later, I started going to yoga three times a week, and I really loved it – finally, I thought, a form of exercise that’s perfect for me. It’s non-threatening, nobody really looks at anyone else, I don’t have a team to let down, there’s very little pain, no asthma, and it’s really relaxing, which exercise has never been for me. That continued for a year, until our class got a new instructor. The woman, whose face I’ll never forget, used a microphone (great way to kill the zen vibes, lady) and in her first class asked me if I had scoliosis while I was in the middle of a back bend. The whole class dropped out of posture to assess my apparently crooked-looking spine. Just for the record, I don’t have scoliosis. Nobody’s ever asked me that before or since. But yoga had been ruined for me – I was that girl again, the one who looks awkward doing things that other people do with ease, the one standing in the middle of the field all by myself while two groups of girls standing in front me snicker or look away because they feel sorry for me but are also really grateful that they’re not me. Maybe this sounds overdramatic. But if I hadn’t been so sports-averse as a kid, I’m sure I’d have been able to brush off the instructor’s comment.
A year or two later, I’ve been to other yoga classes, but I don’t feel it anymore. It’s intimidating. I imagine that I look crooked all the time, and that really obstructs my inner peace.
But now, because I have nothing better to do at lunchtime, I’m running again. This time, on a treadmill.
And I kind-of love it.
Not enough to make me enter another race ever again. And definitely not enough to make me want to do it on the weekend. But I’m finally not worrying about my weight anymore, I feel pretty darn good about myself, I’m full of energy in the afternoons, I’m satisfyingly bone-tired at night, and apparently I’m adding some years onto my life expectancy.
“It’s a good life” (as Augustus Waters said), so I’m pretty stoked about that.