I’m heading into Year 2 of my “gym every day” journey and here are the things I’ve learned that I wish I’d known back when I started exercising.
I jumped into gym protocol and body awareness late in my life due to a combination of Nerd Genes and some untreated chronic issues like asthma. Nowadays, I consider myself a gym vet and this is some hard-earned knowledge.
[Post-gym flushed and tall sweaty hair is how I start the day.]
If it took three months to achieve noticeable advances in strength or muscle tone in your twenties then the same result in your forties will take twelve months.
Slow progress is still progress.
There is a difference between a small injury from strain that will benefit from more light exercise and an injury that will benefit from a few days of rest. Learning to recognize this sometimes subtle difference has been a key to my progress. If I rest when I should have exercised then the injury will get stiff and be harder to treat later. Conversely, resting a body part is sometimes necessary, but don’t skip the gym! If I hurt my foot I can still use a rowing machine or go swimming. One injured body part is not an excuse to do nothing as that will not facilitate healing. Even physicians will default to telling someone to rest but remember that they don’t mean your whole body forever — just the injury. To rest or to do more exercise is a tricky one to suss out as individual results vary a lot.
Enough exercise for progress but not so much that you have pain or injury is also a tricky thing to measure. When in doubt: low impact. This is why I prefer the controlled environment of a gym to attempting something outdoors; in a gym I can more easily track what is too much for me.
Exercise has a strong and noticeable impact on my overall mood. If I don’t go for a few days I will start to feel depressed. In my youth, I rarely would attribute this malaise to lack of movement. Now I know, if I start having “I’m not good enough” feelings it is time to get the blood pumping.
Martial arts and dancing helped me gain coordination in my twenties and I stopped self identifying as “klutzy” which had a benefit to me overall. In my opinion, kids who are klutzy and get hurt on the playground should be encouraged to exercise more, not less as parental instinct dictates. Yes, they will get hurt as they’re learning, but their brains and bodies will eventually talk to each other and they’ll benefit from that. Again, I made this transition in my twenties, so in theory if you’re a klutzy adult this could help you, too.
Regular movement helps me sleep better.
A program of alternating among activities has been a key to avoiding injury. Cardio one day, yoga the next, swimming the next day, and weight lifting the following day. Repeat. No one body part gets used too much and I think the swim and yoga helps in recovery from the other two activities.
No learning is ever wasted and even singing has benefited my gym experience — I can pick up dance routines and proper form faster than most people.
When you have chronic health problems then there will be times when you are unable to exercise. Full stop. You can’t do anything about those times so don’t beat yourself up about it. Be kind to yourself when health issues are kicking you. Although, please remember to spend time in sunlight when you have an illness. A dark room for days at a time is depressing.
If you have a new baby forget about exercising for the first few months. You have to wait until you’re getting enough sleep or you will injure yourself. In general, if you’re exhausted then don’t push because you will be more prone to hurting yourself.
I still think of myself as an un-athletic nerd but the other night, I had vivid dreams that I worked as a professional ballerina. My subconscious thinks I’m a bad ass. Who am I to argue?