Regular exercise is no longer optional
Exercise is an essential part of a successful career. It’s an essential part of a good life. I think one problem a lot of us face is that we approach exercise like it’s a choice.
When email first became widely used, I worked for a guy who thought it was optional. At some point, it truly was optional. High-level executives used to be able to say, “Call my secretary. I don’t have email.” I remember thinking that my boss did not understand reality. That times had changed and his career was going to end if he couldn’t manage to take a look at his in box once a day.
Today I am thinking the same thing about exercise. We used to think that it was optional. But today, it is so overwhelmingly clear that regular exercise changes your life and makes you perform better at work, that it is absolutely absurd to think that you can function optimally in your life without regular exercise.
This is not just about good-looking people doing better in life (which is true). It runs deeper than that. Mary Carmichael wrote in Newsweek about the research that shows exercise boosts our IQ. And exercise increases our resilience to difficult times, which is often the difference between success and failure in getting what we want.
I told myself all of this stuff last month when I started going to the gym again. Last year, a few months after I started blogging, I was so totally overwhelmed by the amount of work it took, that I told myself there was nothing to do but stop going to the gym until I caught up with my work.
It took me four months to realize that the extra hour a day that I was able to work because I wasn’t at the gym was not changing my life. Being overwhelmed by the demands of blogging was not about one hour. It was about that I had made a career change and didn’t even realize it.
But going to the gym for an hour does change my life. Regular exercise requires a careful mental shift. First you clearly prioritize what’s important to you, and why. Then you pick a specific time and specific place, and then you convince yourself that going is not negotiable. There is clear evidence to show that people who make one conscious change – such as going to the gym every day – unconsciously change many other positive changes in their life. Making one decision to live consciously has a ripple affect throughout your life.
In an interview with Harvard Magazine, psychology professor Ellen Langer says, “More than 30 years of research has shown that mindfulness is figuratively and literally enlivening.” And while we all say we want to live in the present, Langer points out, “If you’re not in the present, you’re not there to know you’re not there.”
I remind myself of this when I start thinking of exercise as negotiable. And for all the ten million pieces of advice on how to make exercise regular in one’s life, the best advice, I have found, is to realize that I will not get the life I want if I don’t go to the gym when I plan to go to the gym. When I interviewed positive psychologist Senia Maymin, she convinced me that the key to regular exercise is to tell myself that it is not a choice, and to also tell myself stories that encourage me to go to the gym. One of my stories is the one I told you — about how working that extra hour did not help me catch up at work.
So tell me, what stories do you tell yourself to exercise regularly? Do stories work for you?
I get exercise by riding my bicycle to work as often as the weather permits. I don’t have to tell myself stories to do it – I truly love it. When I can bike to work, it is my favorite part of the day. (Lately, it’s the only part of the workday I even enjoy at all. The trick is stopping the bike after I *get* to work.) Make myself do it? Heck, I CLING to it.
I have been biking to the grocery store and using it to run other errands, too. These are all things I have to get done anyway, and when I make exercise a part of that, it doesn’t even feel like I have to go out of my way to exercise.
No question that exercise makes me a stronger, happier person. When Eastern religions talk about unity between mind, body, and spirit they are right on, and the body is a full third of that equation.
Execise has helped me through some of the toughest times of my life (I’m only 26, so I suppose I have plenty more of these to look forward to). I see it like brushing my teeth (but sometimes it feels more like flossing…)
I’ve noticed that having a workout partner helps tremendously, and keeps things interesting, just as long as they have similar goals and are at a similar level of fitness. Also, it really helps to switch things up – try running, try weightlifting, try everything.
I’ve noticed that many woman say they afraid of getting big so they don’t lift weights. Trust me, that won’t happen unless you want it to. Guys have the opposite problem (we could probably benefit from a few more aerobics classes and more stretching.)
Do it right before or right after work, and figure out what you’re going to be doing before you ever step foot inside the gym. No plan, no gain. It’s too easy to quit if you don’t have clear goals. Such is life, right?
I have found that goals and particular events really push me to exercise. These days, I never go to a gym, but I do run about 20 miles a week and try to ride my bike to work 3 days a week (27-mile round trip).
I love the bike commute…if I could not do it, I would look for another job. I would not work at a job where bike commuting was impossible.
Running…I love it, but it is harder to keep the motivation going to get up at 5am and do it. So I sign up for races. I get a huge motivation from seeing improvement in the 5Ks and I plan on running my 2nd marathon in October and a team relay, 200-mile race in September. Knowing that I’m going to do those things keeps me running–otherwise, it is too easy to go for a few days that turns into a week, etc. But if I’m not signed up for a big race like that…I will sleep through my 5am alarm clock. But I know that I cannot run a marathon unless I do the training…and I cannot really start training without a solid base…
I started power walking when I started graduate school. To minimize the impact of school on my family, I do most of my study before my boys get up and after they go to bed. When I finish my morning walk, my head is clear and I have productive study sessions.
Penelope, this was the perfect post for me today. I am really struggling with this right now. After getting into a new relationship about 6 months ago, I found that a lot of my personal happiness increased but I feel much more pressed for time to do things I had once made the time for, especially exersice. Now I am really paying the price for it. I’m having a hard time waking up on time, I’m grumpier, more easily distracted, there’s more aches and pains (not to mention that I have a physical injury that requires me to stretch and move frequently in order to recover and I’ve been slacking), and I just feel so lumpy!
The story I’m going to tell myself to get me back on track is the same promise that I made to myself when I trained for my first 5K last fall: if I can make it through this last run up this huge hill, I can do anything, including finding someone to create a wonderful relationship with. It was a deal I made with myself. If I can do this, I can do that. Maybe it was a wish that came true but it really was just me doing hard work and being able to use that push in other areas without even being entirely consciously aware of how or why. Anyways, a month or so later, I met my boyfriend. Now I just need to start running again and join the gym because I do take an aerobics class once a week and I really enjoy that group dynamic. Also, just having paid for something will make me more dedicated to doing it so the gym it is.
“I love the bike commute – if I could not do it, I would look for another job. I would not work at a job where bike commuting was impossible.”
Dave, I hear you loud and clear. Is your company pretty bike-friendly? My current contract is with a huge company in the heart of downtown. They rent space from a building owner that doesn’t even allow bikes IN THE BUILDING. My friends at other companies brag about keeping their bikes in their cubicles. The basement level of this building is a parking garage, and they won’t even allow bikes in that.
Only the highest-ups in this building get to park in the basement, and apparently some jerk got his car scratched. Not by a bicycle, mind you – it could have been anything; another car, someone walking by, an ex-wife … who knows? I’m sure it was an expensive car, considering who gets those spaces, but still. Get a life, dude. He threw a hissy fit and complained to the building owner, so the owner put this huge, bureaucratic plan in place to “protect the cars” in the basement. A plan which includes … no bicycles in the building! I have to keep my bike five blocks away.
It is just one more reason why I think my current client is old-school, static, and full of bureaucratic nonsense, and only cements my resolve never to take a full-time position here when my contract is up.
Hey if you have a good group of friends and a good partnet in gym, hitting the gym every morning becomes a necessity.
“Do stories work for you?” : No need of any stories . Get a good gym partner – your best friend if possible. And go to gym together – i mean pick up the other person from his/her house alternate days.
You will definitely go to his house on time because you dont want him to wait long time for you. And same way he will come to your house on time next day because he dosent want you to wait for him/her.
This really works. It has worked for me and my cousin.
No stories for me. I go an hour a day every day, except I rest on Wednesdays. Sometimes I’ll go twice on Saturdays. It’s just what I do – like brushing my teeth.
I notice quite a few people who go to the gym to socialize. They visit a lot more than they work out. I work out hard, but it’s fun to watch people.
There’s the 60 year old (I’m guessing) guy who wears a fishnet mid-drift top with very short, tight shorts. He walks around like he’s such a stud and I rarely see him do anything other than walk around like he’s got broomstick up his behind. He is such a horrible looking guy, but he thinks he’s quite the looker. I’ll give him one thing – he’s hairy.
There’s the 20-something female bodybuilder type with a significant boob job. She gets lots of attention. Question: Why do so many young females have a tattoo in the small of their back? And it appears many of them have the exact same design.
There’s the two guys who always show up together. They’re more ripped than anybody at the gym. Steroids are clearly part of their routine. They are quite popular around the gym and together they hit on all the girls. And appear to be the envy of many guys.
Question: When did so many guys start shaving their legs AND arms? It’s unbelievable to me the number of young guys who have NO hair on their arms or legs. Then, there are the guys who seem to have hair everywhere. And of course, there are always those people who are human sweat factories leaving puddles everywhere they go.
Where else can you go work up a great sweat, lose inches, gain strength AND be entertained – all at the same time. It’s the hi-lite of my day.
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All the comments here are great — inspirational and creative. Thanks everyone. This comment in particular is a good reminder, too, that gym culture is so weird, and you do get to know a swath of your city you would never otherwise come into contact with. I like this quirk about the gym… Would it get me to go every night? Probably not. But there are tons of other comments in this string that definitely would help me!
This is so true, and there are ways to achieve this aside from the gym experience as you will get burnt if you only go to the gym. Try taking up some team sports or doing something you enjoy outdoors like biking, hiking or walking.
I play adult soccer twice a week, which really motivates you because there are others relying on your presence, it is fun, so it does not seem like a work out, and it only takes an hour of your time. I also found that supplementing anything with yoga helps you with your current workout routine(s) as well as at the office with stress and the effects of sitting at your desk all day.
I feel if I miss a day or two of activity I am tired and not as energized, so it truly helps you be more alert and able to handle stress more productively.
I suppose I’m lucky. I enjoy exercise and have for a long time, over twenty years.
The best advice I can give someone who doesn’t like exercise is to make it a non-optional activity and just do it, consistently.
I’ve been working on the self-discipline to exercise regularly, partly with the story that self-discipline is what differentiates those who achieve great things. As Edison said, genius is 99% perspiration. As I’ve gotten better about sticking to my exercise routine, I’ve noticed myself getting better about doing all the other annoying tasks I tend to let slide. Now I’m just powering through them to get them done. It’s pretty satisfying.
If you exercise, eat reasonably well and get enough sleep, it’s amazing the problems that clear up. It sounds corny and old fashioned, but it’s just true. Anxiety, depression, stress, more often than not, these come from messed up blood sugar, sleep deprivation or just general physical distress. Put those three big rocks in the bucket and the rest will fit nicely around them.
Wow, how I admire all you naturally-motivated folks! But now, I’d like to speak for the REST of us.
I don’t love exercise. If I didn’t admit that I have to manipulate my life quite deliberately to make it happen, it wouldn’t. And I know, statistically, that I represent the overwhelming majority of American humanity. There’s no “just do this” quick-fix, either, or else the rest of us (who crave perfection just as much as anybody) would have found it.
So again, no advice, just a few things that have worked for *me*. Start small, and know that every little bit helps. Take the stairs. Choose a more distant parking spot. Get a dog who needs to go on walks. Sell one of the family cars. Find something or someone to be accountable to: a partner, a program. It helps me to literally invest myself in healthy success: e.g. paying for Weight Watchers; buying a house in an area with greenway and sidewalks.
Don’t wait until AFTER you’ve lost the weight or started exercising to tell yourself you’re fabulous. Start NOW with the positive self-talk, stories, (whatever you want to call it)… I like to be insistent that we are ALREADY fabulous, and that makes our health and fitness WORTH fighting for. And if you mess up (as all of us will), it’s never too late to Always Begin Again.
Ah, exercise! I had to put down my fist full of Fig Newtons to comment on this topic, which pretty much sums up the current state of my exercise.
I am 5 months pregnant which procludes rigorous weight lifting or kickboxing, but definitely should include walking or yoga. I find I do none of it now, as I always find an excuse. And I do feel it, like you said, in my energy levels, grumpiness meter, and overall wiggly jiggliness of body parts.
But I do know this – when I get in the groove of a routine, I LOVE to workout. I was a serial martial artist for years, then a Pilates fanatic, then a weightlifting junkie. Once this latest little baby I am working on comes into the world and I settle into a routine, I will get back on track.
So my lesson: I know that I am an extremist and will get back to it when the time is right. I don’t beat myself up for it, lest I eat even more fistfulls of Fig Newtons.
Here is what helps me keep exercise checked-off on my to-do list:
1. Do something that I loved to do when I was a kid (swim)
2. Do it with other people who will push me (coached master’s workout)
3. Do it at a time that doesn’t conflict with work or family time (5:30 AM)
4. Make a commitment that is achievable, not impossible (3 times/wk)
Once I figured that out, I have exercise in my life on autopilot.
I tell myself that it is just a little exercise, not a big time expenditure. That I can get my brainstorming done while I walk or jog. That I will spend more time feeling bad if I skip than I would have if I had just DONE it. That my daughter will only be little for a while – we often do our ‘exercise’ at the park, playing soccer or swimming.
Most importantly, the strain and stress of pulling ten hour days at a computer are less taxing on my back and general health when I exercise every single day. I notice immediately if I miss more than two days in a row.
Since I live in a big city I absorb lots of pollutants every day. I tell myself that when I exercise and sweat I’m de-toxifying myself. The sauna is great for this too. I have no data to support this de-toxifying theory but I think I’m better off without it because this attitude works for me as is.
I met a guy the other day who is a complete workaholic. He takes his Blackberry to the gym with him. He does a round of weight-lifting and then “takes a break” to read his email. Made me feel sad for him.
I’m with almost got it – I don’t naturally gravitate toward exercise, although I did spend most of my childhood and college years doing hours a day in a dance studio. But a hour just to look better? You’ve got to be kidding me.
So instead, I trick myself into exercising by hiding it inside things I like. I go to dance class, or, more importantly, I take a walk by myself after work. The trick for me is to convince myself that the exercise isn’t taking the place of something else I want to be doing – which would normally be cooking or writing, neither of which is known for burning a lot of calories. I have to convince myself that exercising is exactly what I want to be doing. Once it isn’t a waste of time in my eyes, it’s a lot more enjoyable.
I’ve started taking post-lunch walks around the surrounding streets close to work just to de-stress and clear mental blocks. I try not to think about all the things on my to-do list and just get some fresh air. And the best part is coming back to the office energized and ready to finish my project.
I’ve been running/walking after i come home from work. it’s amazing what an hour run will do for your health and mind!
There is an ironic feeling of freedom that comes from following a strict exercise program. One would think the opposite– that an exercise program takes away from your freedom. Instead, it adds some structure and creates a sense of accomplishment that remains even if you’ve had an otherwise totally unproductive day.
Another nice thing about exercise is that one can become mildly addicted to it. If you follow the right program and remain injury free, your body will naturally crave exercise.
Great blog, great comments. I’m surprised though at how little was mentioned regarding the use of personal trainers. Especially since some of them are free with gym membership. Also, I only recall one comment on keeping a journal/record of gym activity. I have never used a trainer,(although many friends swear by them) but the keeping of an exercise journal has always helped me stay honest, focused, and aware.
Thank you! I really needed to hear this. This morning I got up and ran. Every morning I think about it, but this morning I reminded myself that this is an essential part of the “me” equation. It worked…and I will do it again tomorrow.
Yes, stories work for me. Tell me more! :)
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I love how you phrase it that running is an essential part of the “you”
1. the commute. Only five miles each waybut I run or ride it several times a week.
2. the log. 1 point per 100m swum, mile ridden or 1/4 mile run. Keep a per-week pivot table for that nagging voice.
3. Variety. I’ve added fencing (foil) this quarter
4. Gently does it. It took me 6 months to get my knee joints strong enough to run a mile. Not a fitness issue – a muscle/soft tissue strength issue.
I love exercising while I listen to an audiobook on my iPod — training both the mind and the body. Recently I’ve been doing the Pimsleur Spanish lessons, which at 30 minutes each are a great way to burn 250 calories while I’m on the bike at home, plus learn something useful
Thank you for this wonderful post, Penelope! After not doing cardio (avoiding it like crazy because of bad knees) for a few years, I discovered spinning and am in love. My head is clear, my mood is elevated, and I totally agree that exercise is no longer something to shrug off. When we find something we like, then it is no longer a chore. Here’s to everyone finding a workout routine that inspires them!
I actually hate the gym. I prefer to run outside. I find the cost is minimal (the cost of new running shoes every six months) and I save time because we have a shower in my office. I will use the gym in bad weather if I am forced. Here is a quick post I made about some behavior I witnessed at the gym and my thoughts on locker room rules. http://runtracker.runnersworld.com/ba/journal/archives/1839/200702
Exercise gave the opportunity to plan and think about things at the work and home. At first, I also thought that it was only a waste of time because there are other important things that could be done. Then, it became clear that exercising is a great time to plan the things ahead.
I don’t think I’d be quite so prolific a programmer were I not to jog 4 miles every morning (5:30a~6:30a). It helps my productivity and I live across the way from a lake, so it’s actually therapeutic.
Exercise is essential for self-esteem, creativity, and personal balance in my life.
Now approaching 60 (yikes), there is nothing like riding in to work, taking brisk walks between buildings, and alternately lifting and doing yoga poses (on alternate days).
One of the requirements on taking the job I have is the ability to exercise daily. One of the attractions is being able to read while stationary biking.
Very good topic to point out, Penelope.
It’s been difficult for me to incorporate exercise into my routine for some of the reasons that Penelope mentions in her own situation: long days, long commute, balancing work and life in general. But I’ve found my mood get steadily worse without it, and as someone who has battled depression for years, that’s a bad sign.
This post was a bit of a wake up call on a day I needed it. I’ve never been one to like exercise as a regimen – particularly in a gym setting – though I’m an avid outdoors person and I love to swim.
I’d be curious what some folks do to balance distaste for exercise in the confines with a gym with a love for outdoor activities? I’ve seen a couple of the biking posts, and that would intrigue me if I didn’t have such a long commute (and live in New England).
Do you live in an area where you can walk a couple miles every day? If not, can you park a couple miles from work and walk? Get off at a train or metro stop a couple miles from your workplace? Walk during you lunch hour?
Personally, the thought of a stationairy bike, stair-stepper, or treadmill does not get it done for me at all. The only interst a gym has for me is a pool for swimming laps. But all that costs money, walking is free. I would rather walk, even when it is hot and humid, raining, or cold.
I wish they did work for me. But I am horrible about getting regular exercise and know that I need to. My motivation these days? I want to be around when PunditGirl is my age. Describing myself as in mid-forties is charitable, or delusional, so I know I need to race my husband to the door for the exercise time. Why is it that guys tend to just announce they’re taking to time to do it, and women seem to have to ask or negotiate the schedule?
I agree. Aside from the fact that our body needs it to be healthy, it’s a good activity to give our minds the time to think. The hard part is for us to realize that it’s good once we started it.
Excercising helps me become happier and perform better everywhere – at work, home and commuicating with people.
I used to go to the gym for several months, but all we need we also have at home. I make a daily walk of 5-10 kms while socializing or getting to work, to compensate sitting working hours.
Even at work there is still a possibility to spend half an hour for a walk or warming-up. The work overload isn’t an excuse for giving up excercises: that money we earn instead will not compensate loss of health, it’s true.
To keep me motivated, I have a TV and media center set up in my basement by my machines. I have been watching the second season of Lost. I watch one episode per workout and I don’t watch them unless I am working out. I get hooked on the show and want to watch the next show which motivates me to keep going.
I am also someone who just cannot pull myself out of bed in the mornings to work out. I work out right after I get home from work, before dinner. My wife (no kids) has been supportive of this even though it pushes dinner back about an hour.
So far I have lost 18 lbs.
Great to see you writing about the importance of fitness in our everyday lives — and not only for its physical benefits, but for it’s mental and emotional benefits as well (I linked to this from your Yahoo Finance article.)
May you continue to find success as you work toward your fitness goals.
This post still holds a lot of power. Thanks. I just blogged on a study from the University of Pittsburg showing that moms and dads ditch workouts after kids. Thanks for sharing this source of inspiration. I join you in seeing exercise as non-negotiable.
I’ve only just started going to the gym again after laying off for about 20 odd years. It’s great. Gives me so much more energy. Should have done this years ago. Great article.
I prefer to walk outside. Fresh air, a bit of sunlight – it feels good, and it’s something I can fit in at lunch or after dinner. Next living situation is going to be in walking distance of a shopping center or pool.
I also do yoga classes a couple times a week.
The biggest thing for me is to unlearn the dieter’s “You exercise TO LOSE WEIGHT. Losing weight IS THE REASON TO EXERCISE. If you don’t lose weight it’s A WASTE OF TIME”. No; being on diets from age 8-twentysomething was an unhealthy waste of time. Exercise is about strength and flexibility.
I used to be a meteorologist, with a lot more spare time on hand than I have now. I was a member back then of a Cycling / road racing club (as in bicyycle racing).
I then made a career change, moving into software engineering – and I stopped exerecise, “no longer have the time!” (other factors too – went back to school for part time study, had my family to take care of etc)
That was all about 15 years ago. I recently bought myself a road racing bike again, and took up an intensive cycling fitness program. I suddenly find that I am FAR BETTER able to concentrate at work for longer period, and my short and medium-term memory has improved dramatically!
Yup, I believe every word you say. Looks like exercise – especially a combination of 80% aerobic, 20% anaerobic exercise does wonders for our intellect.
— Jan in BC, Canada
This post is right on the money for a number of good reasons which include
1)a sense of accomplishment
2)stress management benefits
3)preventative health care by improving/maintaining good health
4)improving brain function.
I regularly (weekly) look forward to the postings on my local newspaper web site from the local expert(Jim LaFountain). His articles cover the benefits of exercise in greater depth. The web site is http://www.uticaod.com/lafountain
One of my favorite and I think fascinating posts is at http://www.uticaod.com/lafountain/x751578845 regarding brain function enhancement.
Thanks Penelope for maintaining this web log and enabling comments to be made to dated articles.
Penelope, you’ve got a great blog, I find so many of the topics really hit home.
I’m going to forward this to my kids and maybe some others. Exercise is not just about weight, it’s about energy, mental alertness and a positive outlook, not to mention getting (if you can do it that way) a refreshing break from your routine.
I’d also like to add, from personal experience, that exercise can be a substantial aid against burnout. And, by the way, you could also write a post, “Taking Active Measures to Avoid Burnout Is No Longer Optional”, and exercise would have to be at the top of that list, too.
Thanks for your blog, I really enjoy reading it.
Penelope, I couldn’t agree more.
If someone were to ask me what my #1 secret to success is, I would honestly have to say it’s the time I spend on the treadmill.
In addition to keeping me healthy, it gives me time to mull over ideas. Being the multi-tasker I am, I will watch the occasional webcast while putting in the miles. I’ve even attended meetings while on the treadmill – not ones I have to speak up during, of course!
I’ve been exercising for 7 weeks now and I feel great, both mentally and physically, despite the uncomfortable current dramas trying to stress my life. I got myself to go by setting low expectations (just show up and do something) and a very long term goal of being physically fit in one year. Achieveable!
By now, I exercise about 8 hours a week because I realize it makes me happy and more productive.
I motivate myself with the story “I am am an athlete in training”. My exercise of choice is ballet class 4 times a week and walking. Thank you for your blog…you gave me the motivation to start blogging by saying….just start. That fear of not doing it right is so true.
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