Thursday, January 17, 2008

Home Sweet Gym

January and New Year's Resolution Management time. For me, that means exercise. I've gotten out of the habit over the holidays, but one thing that will make it easier this time is that I know it really works. I think a lot of people don't do it, not because they think they can't, but because they don't think it will do any good anyway. When every session leaves them breathless and aching, sleepy and hungry, it seems pointless. I used to feel that way too, but when I was diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension, I knew I had to do something. I wasn't sure what to do, though, that would really do any good. I couldn't afford a gym and had no way to get there anyway. I am no athlete and even if someone was chasing me, I would probably just try to talk my way out of it. So reading an article by the Joslin Diabetes Center that losing as little as 7% of my weight and doing moderate-intensity physical exercise could improve my major blood vessel function by 80% was just the news I needed to get motivated.

The first thing I did was walk every evening with my husband, up and down the road in front of our house. Sometimes it was hard to drag ourselves out, but once we got going, talking and enjoying the evening air, the time passed quite pleasantly, until soon we were truly looking forward to it. We usually walked around half an hour, although we didn't really time ourselves. Once I got used to that, I decided to add to it during the day. The only equipment I own is an exercise bike, and I thought I'd start out modestly at 5 minutes a day. Turned out that wasn't modest enough! The first day I did one minute with little problem and then had to be coached through the remaining hours - I mean 4 minutes- by my son. Yikes, that was a wake-up call! I kept on, though, and before long I could do 30 minutes at a time, especially if I had something good to read. In fact, I've discovered it is the perfect time to read the Bible!

One day my sister and I were talking about exercising and she reminisced about Richard Simmons tapes, which reminded me that I had a couple tucked away somewhere. I didn't know if they'd still work, but I dug them out and they did. What a blast! It was a nice alternative to the bike and I truly enjoyed dancing up a storm in my living room, where no one could see me. I also discovered The Body Electric, with Margaret Richards, on PBS. She was on way too early for me, but that's what they make VCR's for, right? She fantastic, in her 50's, but bursting with personality, looks wonderful, and does an intense but calm workout. These focused on stretches, weights, strength and endurance, balance - the sorts of things that look easy but aren't. At least not at first. She gives ways to vary the moves for intensity and always stresses correct form so you don't injure yourself. I hated it at first. It was torture. But I made a decision that I would not stop moving until she did. Maybe I could only do one push-up, or even half of one, but if I couldn't do any more pushups, I'd do something else, like stretch or march in place, until she went to the next exercise. Before long, I could do most of the repetitions on most exercises. Once I began doing her routines, I began dropping dress sizes. The pounds came off too, but very gradually. I'd heard muscle weighed more than fat, and I guess it is true, because once I began building muscle I didn't lose as many pounds. But that's when people began to notice and comment on how much weight I'd lost. Everything got redistributed or firmed up or something. I also began to feel really energetic, which of course fostered more activity. It was really nice to move because I wanted to! Around this time I discovered Leslie Sansone, who does walking tapes. Sounds weird to walk in your living room, but it's fun, and there isn't a bunch of hard choreography to learn. Everyone already knows how to walk, right? There are a few basic steps, but they are easy - things like side-steps, knee lifts and kicks. I also began trying out other tapes, just to change things up, which is good for the muscles and the morale. Now I've got a variety of tapes for different moods and energies.

The exercise became a habit, and it enriched my life so much. What had at first seemed too time-consuming actually began to give me extra time just because I had so much energy. My blood pressure and sugar levels improved greatly too, and my appetite actually dropped. I've come to see that exercise is a lot like brushing my teeth. I don't see drastic improvement from one day of brushing my teeth, either, but I just do it anyway, and one day I realize, hey, my teeth never fell out! Each day of exercise builds on the one before, and one day I realized I was strong and healthy and loving life. Really, exercise is a choice, one that I am realizing I can't live without.

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