Over the many years that I have been in the health and exercise field, the aspect of exercise that I have noticed is hardest for most people is getting started. We all know that exercise is good for us. Exercise science can now prove it by telling us about the many benefits of exercise. What remains the toughest part of getting started and taking that first step is motivation. Behavior change is a difficult process. What better way to find out what motivates people to exercise than to talk to those who are, and have been, regular exercisers. This week, I have decided to let you in on some of my own motivators and my own personal philosophy on exercise, why I got started and why I am still exercising after 35-years. So, here’s my story . . .
It was 1974 and I was about three months from my twenty-fifth birthday. Over the previous year, I had gained over twenty pounds. Not good! I had actually started swimming with a friend, about 1/4-mile every other day, but I wasn’t a good swimmer and I did a lot of side-stroke and took a lot of breaks at each end of the pool. I also made a big mistake. I fell into a mind trap and got caught up in a myth: I convinced myself that because I was exercising, I could eat more . . . and I did! There was no way that the amount of calories I was eating was going to be burned off by what I was doing in the pool. I ate pie at lunch, doughnuts on my coffee breaks and I never ate breakfast. I was really depressed and unhappy with myself.
At that time, my husband and I had just moved to Coronado, California, our first of many moves with the Navy. We decided that it would be fun to explore the area and enrolled in a basic mountaineering course. We were immediately instructed that we had better be fit because we were going to be putting in some miles and elevation gain. Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s book Aerobics had just been published and we decided to take the 12-minute test. I was in the poor category and I was only twenty-four. Not good! I found out how “poor” I was on our first hike. I had to stop frequently and just couldn’t keep up. That, coupled with my extra weight and the sudden realization that “the clothing industry was making clothes a lot smaller than they used to,” led me to go back to Dr. Cooper’s book to take my first step in the right direction. I started walking around a nearby baseball field until I could add a little jogging. The beautiful Coronado beach was nearby and I started going there to jog and then even began running. At the same time, I took another first step, one that I consider the most important reason I was able to lose weight . . . I started eating a regular breakfast before I went to work and I stopped eating the first thing that jumped out at me in the cafeteria line on my coffee break, doughnuts!
Perhaps you have by now discerned my motivation. I was unhappy with myself. I couldn’t do what I had been able to do or what I wanted to do. I didn’t like the “me” I had become. As I began running and losing weight, I began feeling better, was able to do more, and got back to my regular weight and even less. I started feeling really good, was looking better, and could complete our conditioning backpacking hikes with energy to spare. In 1975, I entered my first of many road races, the Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, 7.6 miles, and in 1976, I completed my first marathon, the Honolulu Marathon, all 26.2 miles, accompanying a cardiac rehabilitation patient in the YMCA cardiac rehab program.
Over the ensuing years, I have continued to run. I don’t run as far or as fast or as often. Guess I’m kind of like the “Velveteen Rabbit.” I run (okay, jog) every other day from five-to-seven miles. What I’d like to pass onto you now is a little philosophy. I’ve already told you some things about exercise over the past few articles. Find what you like to do and take the first step. What it did for me is the title of this article. It led me through discipline to freedom. I wasn’t free to do the things I wanted to do. I couldn’t even hike at age twenty-four. I’ll be sixty next year and this past Sunday I ran the Portland Marathon 5-Miler. A phrase on the 5-Miler T-shirt, “Victory is crossing the starting line,” truly touched me and summarizes my philosophy on exercise, “Be there.” I love having the freedom to run along the waterfront, listen to the great music and participate in fun events. And I don’t run so I can eat more. I eat in order to have the energy I need to run.
When you take that first step, you are on your way to your own personal freedom–freedom to feel healthier and more energetic, freedom to be in charge of food instead of food controlling you, and yes, even the freedom to wear that smaller dress or pants size. Take charge. You are your own best health insurance policy. Lifestyle reform is the first and best step towards healthcare reform. Remember, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made . . . ” (Psalm 139) The human body is designed to move. With the right kinds of food and exercises your muscles deserve and yearn for, you can feel and look the way you did in years past.
(Note: Today, October 7, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will release “The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” in Washington, D.C. I will discuss these new guidelines in my article next week as well address the concepts of physical activity, exercise and movement.)
Yours in fitness,
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM
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