How did I learn to put personal exercise -- for me -- at the top of the priority list, and keep it there, for a year?
I learned by putting my (generally very fit) husband's personal exercise at the top of the priority list for over two years.
Mark has a few old injuries from high school pole vaulting: a spinal compression fracture, a repeatedly-injured thigh muscle, and a repeatedly-injured muscle in the opposite calf. Every once in a while he will Do Something To one of those old injuries and have to take it easy for a while. Once it was letting me hang off him while I was in labor, once it was racquetball with T.O.M., once it was running his first 5K about 20 percent faster than he should have.
Anyway, a few years ago the sports medicine specialist ordered him to do a specific regimen of strength training and lower-body cardio, three times a week. For how long? Well, he could mix it up a bit once he healed, but he was going to have to stay fit and strong to keep the pain at bay, so, indefinitely. He came home and explained. Would we make it work? Of course.
And we did. For years. He's got a gym at work, and we have the family membership to the Y, and he can run or bike 4.5 miles to work. Generally Mark would work out before coming home in the evenings. One night a week we declared "Family Gym Night:" we would all go, Oscar would have a swimming lesson and Milo (then too little) would stay in the child care -- or we would take turns staying with him in the child care. I would get exercise on Family Gym Night.
Sometimes the schedule conflicted with other stuff we wanted to do. We would juggle it around, but we never (or hardly ever) skipped Mark's workout; we always made sure to slot it in somewhere else, even if he had to leave us in the evening, even if he had to come home extra late for dinner.
I got used to getting exercise "once a week, most weeks." I had to skip, of course, if Mark was out of town (since Milo would often refuse to stay in the child care). I skipped once in a while and stayed home if I had a lot of other stuff to do. After a while, at Hannah's urging, I signed up for swimming lessons myself. I took lessons for a whole year. That was great, because before that I could only dog paddle, and I was thinking that when I would get pregnant with baby #3 I would swim for exercise during pregnancy.
That pregnancy came along and knocked me flat on my back where I alternately slept and threw up for five months, so forget that. I maybe got in the pool three times while pregnant with MJ. But after MJ was born, we went back to Family Gym Night, taking turns. Milo got old enough to start swimming lessons. All that time Mark kept up his workouts, three a week. He had long since got better.
When MJ was about a year old, I started to wonder... Maybe now it can be my turn. I spoke to Mark about it: Do you think we could make it top priority for me to get regular exercise? Once a week was nice, but not very much, and I needed to get more serious about it, send myself a message that I was really doing it this time. How about twice a week? Three seemed too difficult to fit in. Let's see if I can exercise twice a week, every week, and then when it becomes a habit... someday far off in the future... then I can add a third. If I can find the time.
I felt very tentative and apologetic about asking to put my exercise first. I don't know why I was so worried: Mark agreed with great enthusiasm. I suggested I start swimming, for two reasons: (1) I hate getting hot and sweaty and (2) it combines strength and cardio, so it seemed a perfect fit for a twice-a-week schedule. We decided that each week I would swim on Family Gym Night and on whatever other night that week seemed to work best for the schedule.
We began in January 2008. It was the first New Year's resolution I ever kept. I never missed a single week that whole year, even though for most of the year MJ refused to stay in the child care.
Of course there had to be a little bit of flexibility. When the pool was closed for repairs I drove to another Y twenty minutes away. When I had a sinus infection, I walked on a treadmill instead of swimming (yuck, I got hot and sweaty). When Mark was to go out of town for a few days I went to the pool at 5:30 AM the morning of his flight out, and went to the pool again the same evening he came back. A couple of times, when Mark went out of town for longer, I asked Hannah to watch the children while I went to the pool.
But most of the time it was Mondays and Thursdays. Sometimes Mark had to miss his workout, not very often, just here and there, because now mine came first. Sometimes I didn't get the housework done. Sometimes we had a quick dinner, or Mark made dinner, because I had to get to the gym. Not very often, but sometimes.
I began to really enjoy my workouts. After a few months, I didn't just endure them---I looked forward to them. I realized that this was time that was truly my own, and time that is my own is something I have always cherished.
In late summer Mark suggested I take up something else, like running. "It'd be more flexible," he pointed out. "It takes less time, because you don't have to shower and change. And if the pool's closed or if the lap lanes are all full, you'll still be able to get a workout the same place, same time. We won't have to put it somewhere else in the week. And if you learn to run outside, you can get a workout anywhere---you won't need to go to the Y."
I started to twitch just thinking about changing my routine. "No. I can't do that yet. It's too soon." I couldn't explain why, but I was not yet ready to alter the routine. The routine had turned me around. By now I was losing weight. Everything was falling into place. I couldn't change yet. "No," I said. "Please don't make me change anything yet." He backed off, but I could tell he was kind of irritated. I knew he had made sacrifices for months so that I could sustain this roll I was on, so that I could have everything exactly the way I wanted it. "I'm sorry," I said, "I will be able to be more flexible eventually, but not yet. Give me a few more months."
He did. And I started looking for a plan to make my routine more flexible. I was afraid of replacing a swimming workout with something else until I got good enough (at the something else) to have it be pretty intense. So I announced that I would try to fit another workout into my week, and the third workout would be for trying out other kinds of exercise. I put it on Saturday mornings, my errand-running, writing, out-to-breakfast-by-myself, occasionally-go-to-Adoration morning. I could spare some time in there. And it was time I already had "to myself," so I wouldn't take any more away from Mark.
I tried a yoga class, and I tried running. I liked both. I think I would have preferred to take up yoga, but in the end running won, because I wasn't beholden to anybody's class schedules. And after a while, I got good enough at running on the treadmill that a running workout was about as intense as a swimming workout. And so today, if I have to skip one of my three weekly workouts, it doesn't really matter whether I skip a swim or a run; I still feel that I've exercised.
"Getting my workouts in" is no longer the top priority of the family. There are several reasons why not:
- I have so much experience finding different ways to get my exercise, it's easy for me to figure out how to get them in most of the time--so I don't need them to be top-priority to fit them into the schedule.
- I look forward to them, I genuinely want to do them, I itch if I have to miss one--so I don't need them to be top-priority to be motivated.
- I've been doing it long enough that I'm confident a missed workout will not turn into missing two, then three, then weeks of workouts--so I don't need them to be top-priority to be consistent.
I just do it. Like the slogan. Only it took me a year to get there.