Help Wanted

In a little less than two weeks, I’ll be turning 39. I am not especially freaked out about hitting the last year of my 30s — other than a kind of general WTF? that it’s gotten here so soon — but even though I’m not all that worked up over my looming birthday, it is making me rather… contemplative.

One thing this introspection has yielded so far is the realization that, if I don’t make some changes, I’ll be turning 40 in the worst shape of my life — and this really bugs me. I’ve been lucky enough to have coasted my entire life as far as fitness is concerned; to say that I have terrible eating habits and worse exercise skills would not be overstating the situation. I’ve always been naturally thin without working out and, until living through a year or so of an undiagnosed thyroid condition, I could eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight. Not so much anymore, however. Meds have gotten my energy level back to normal, but I don’t seem to be recovering my ability to consume without consequences.

This, of course, leaves me with two choices: cut back the calories or start exercising. The former seems like a choice full of farewells: goodbye cake, bye-bye beer, sayonara pasta; the latter, however, would actually bring good things I would welcome, like a healthier heart and stronger bones. So, easy decision… except for one problem.

I don’t know how to exercise.

No, I’m not kidding. The closest I’ve ever gotten to belonging to a gym was a summer of aerobics classes at the YMCA in… oh, 1990, I think, and my only takeaway was a burning hatred for the song “Cherish” by Madonna. I don’t run. I have a bike I can’t ride because I never learned to shift and I’m terrified of all the cars on the roads. I was on the swim team in middle school, but have barely put on a swimsuit since. Other than the on-again, off-again yoga classes I’ve taken since I moved to DC, I have had no regular fitness routine in my life. Ever.

I’ve always said I hate exercising, but I don’t really think that’s true — I hate the idea of exercising, and having never been much of an athlete at all, I kind of have a complex that it’s all just beyond me.* And so, I need help. If you were starting from scratch with physical fitness at the age of 39, what would you do? I’m pretty sure I’m going to go back to yoga, but beyond that, what? Join a gym? Get a trainer? Take up running? Hit the pool? Some combination? My birthday present to myself is going to be whatever stuff (gym membership, running shoes, etc.) that I need to make this happen, but I need some getting started — and staying motivated — advice.

So, dear blog readers… You have 10 days to make recommendations to help me spend year 39 getting in shape. Have at it.

* Realistically, some of it is. I do have a mild case of sciatica, so anything that’s particularly hard on the lower back is right out.

13 thoughts on “Help Wanted

  1. Eileen March 29, 2010 / 10:33 pm

    It must be genetic. I couldve written 90 percent of this post myself. Please keep us updated cause I need to do the same thing. Hugs!

  2. Mom March 30, 2010 / 6:28 am

    This is your physically fit Mother checking in. We are a long line of fitness non-buffs. :). Remember back when you kids were in high school & I started walking — partly for exercise & partly for sanity! Something about the 40s. I loved just plain walking –fast — Easy , good cardio, no fees, no particular hours — BUT with a friend! Going with a friend makes it a commitment & motivator. (Oh, she’ll be out there
    waiting for me. Gotta get up & go.). Now I know you are not an early riser, but this does make you feel better & your coffee will just taste so much better when you return. All you need is good sneekers …. Now, you’re going to ask me how come all I do nowadays is stroll with my pup?? I may not be trim anymore, but I do get out in the fresh air 2-3 times a day. So next I’ll be suggesting you get a dog. I was 60 when I first did that. :). I’ll wait a few more days to wish you a happy.

  3. Susan March 30, 2010 / 6:48 am

    Hmmm…swimming is the gentlest on the old body 🙂
    I’ve done Pilates videos at home…the thought of working out in a gym…blech. Not sure why.
    @Mom- friend accountability is good…my favorite running is with someone.
    Right there with you…dropped the exercise thing with the grad classess…planning on starting May 2. May have more practical tips then (when the 24 credits are all done!)

  4. common loon March 30, 2010 / 7:40 am

    Yep, I’m there too. I was just talking with Sue about the differences in my 40+ body. “When I was your age (wink wink)” I was undergoing surgery to regain my ability to walk reliably, and that has completely changed a bit of my fitness outlook (no more marathons, no more than a 10K really, and satisfaction that I can run anything at all is my new contentment…this is a big stinkin’ change). A couple of things I might suggest:
    1. friend accountability
    2. pay for some sort of event (breast cancer 3-day, MS walk, rollerblade event…something that will require you to “train” and not just go out and wreck your body for the time of the event)…helps to have a light at the end of the tunnel…if you’ve got the means, why not tie it into your travels and maybe do an event (as low key as you want) during one of your adventures? There are even yoga destinations now!
    3. stretching and strength training!!!! Before you start ANYTHING, start improving your flexibility and strength – without those two “getting right” first, any program you start will likely result in some injuries, which leads to frustration, which generally ends any effort to get into better shape. For example, I did not know there were at least 4 different muscles that make up my quad – I just thought it was one big leg muscle. I learned exercises to address each different part of that muscle, to improve my ability to hold my knee in place so I would be less likely to injure myself as I re-rentered the fitness world.
    4. Cardio makes me happy…you get those endorphins and life is just better (thus the satisfaction after a walk). Cardio alone though leaves you unbalanced (just my opinion), especially as you age.
    5. Commit for a least one month before you quit / change. The first month is MISERABLE and your body will fight you every single step of the way. After 2-3 weeks, though, you will find that you have more energy and your body will feel a little off if you don’t do something. But really, the first month sucks. Oh yeah, and muscle weighs more than fat, so your weight may go up initially (cardio helps control that).
    6. Ok, suggestions…that’s so personal! You know, even dancing would be physical fitness (belly dancing really works your abs). I think I would avoid running as your starting point – it’s hard on a “good” body. An elliptical is supposed to be much kinder to the joints, and you could listen to your podcasts, etc. if you want to go that route. A trainer might be good, but if I worry that you won’t get one that is a good fit for you (not all trainers are equal). You could join the craze and find a “fitness boot camp.” Sarah, what do you WANT to do? Do you have ANY inklings of “oh, I wish I had tried….?” If so, find a beginner class and try it!

  5. Sionna March 30, 2010 / 8:21 am

    Almost two months into my 39th year and I am feeling soft around the middle myself. And before those that know me start screaming at me about how little I am, little yes…but I am probably the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life, not counting my pregnancy. And little means that even five pounds over looks like thirty! So this 10-15 over is looking pretty unsightly…

    So I am feeling it too. I have had exercise routines and fallen off of them as well. My best advice, whatever routine you decide to take up, is to get an exercise buddy to keep you honest. That worked best for me when I was running last year, but my buddy moved to Seattle last fall. 😡 But we kept each other going.

    Luckily, I found a new buddy and we hope to hit the track starting next week when the weather gets better. I suggest swimming and spinning for you along with a little weight training. Cross-training is best so that you don’t over-use one muscle set and you don’t aggravate your sciatica.

    Find a Y, or a decent gym with a good trainer to give you some good advice and get you a program. There are Boot Camps at Ys, and that might work for you too.

  6. common loon March 30, 2010 / 9:08 am

    Maybe we should all make a pledge / commitment / recommitment?

  7. Eileen March 30, 2010 / 9:41 am

    Now that I think about it (and read others comments) I did do the walking thing last year with a girlfriend (before Little Man arrived) and really enjoyed it…half shrink, half exercise for both of us, I think. I actually miss it – probably more the talking part than the exercise part but it worked well together. So I say definitely get a buddy. And biking might be good – definitely gets you in shape and isn’t hard on the knees/back (or as hard).

  8. Robyn D G March 30, 2010 / 10:01 am

    Hi Sarah!

    Wow, what a great realization you’re having….it’s so easy to coast through your 30’s & 40’s without exercise and then get smacked in the head in your 50’s/60’s with avoidable health issues. My cardiologist has a sign in his office – “You can either work out for one hour once a day or be dead for 24 hours everyday, what works for you??”

    I’ve been an athlete and a coach, and I know committing to exercise can be incredibly difficult. I wholheartedly agree with common loon. The #1 factor is what do you want to do?? I loved walking after I had my kids; it’s low impact and if you go at a good clip you can burn calories pretty well. I lost a ton of weight just from walking 45 minutes a day. Having fun, committing to your workout and staying motivated is the key.

    You’re at the beginning of this journey and thinking about/committing to a lifestyle change is just one step in the right direction. Keep going. Don’t give up on yourself. Even though it is hard you can make these changes and incorporate them into your life one step at a time!

    Good Luck and keep us posted!

  9. Rudi March 30, 2010 / 10:57 am

    Having just spent a weekend with my ski coach and mentor in discussion about quality workouts and such, here’s the basic drill:

    1. Find a venue you like first. Prefer to spend time outdoors? Find a workout that’s compatible. Don’t mind spending some time inside? Same rule applies. Being happy with your workout surroundings is key, which is part of the reason I love road biking and skiing: I get to see some lovely sights while out and about.

    2. The best workouts for both the cardiovascular system and bone strength are weight bearing. Thus, swimming and road biking are not ideal as “one workout to rule them all” options (and thus why I do some more high-impact stuff in addition to biking). The most balanced overall workout is cross-country skiing in the “classical” style (i.e. no skating), but seeing as you’re not a big can of the cold, that’s not a good option. Walking and jogging/running are good, as are mountain biking and hiking. All of these are aerobic workouts when done for more than 10 minutes at a time.

    3. Yoga is a great form of workout due to its dynamic stretching component. My coach and I spent over an hour discussing this on Saturday, and it turns out that static stretching (i.e. the stretching we all did in P.E. class back in the day) increases the chance of injury in many respects due to over-stressing the muscle tissue and ligaments, while dynamic stretching (where one muscle group uses its action to help stretch an opposing muscle group, all while in motion) tends to strike a better balance and build strength. It’s a win-win proposition.

    4. Weights are a good thing to do, but best done with a buddy, for sure. And it’s best to learn the proper technique, even with machines, so you don’t cause more harm than good. A personal trainer is awesome for this, and they’ll tailor the workout to your needs and desired method of learning.

    5. Above all, try a lot of things until you find something that piques your interest. And know that there are quite a few of your friends who face the same conundrum and would be willing partners in fitness.

    6. Don’t forget: Guinness is a good post-workout beer, with its great taste and relatively low alcohol content.

  10. Sionna March 30, 2010 / 2:35 pm

    @Rudi – #6 BIG thumbs up!!!

  11. Dan March 30, 2010 / 8:28 pm

    I’m no fitness guru, but I’ve also never been able to maintain at a gym.

    I think walking can make a huge difference. Start a walking club at work and go for a 45 minute jaunt around town. Or walk to and/or from work. Or walking to the second nearest metro station as opposed to the nearest one. Or take the stairs.

    Working out in a gym bores me to tears. Even the classes, even sitting there watching TV on an exercycle. But if you’re talking a walk, its great for your mental health; you get to do some quality woolgathering.

    Hope that helps.

  12. Mary March 31, 2010 / 11:00 pm

    After a 34 year hiatus I ran three 5K races last fall. Probably better to call them “fun runs” and I was running with 3rd and 4th graders….but I was running. Training now for the spring season of races!

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