An Active Lifestyle
When I was in college I thought of myself as an active person. I worked out 2-3 times/week at the campus gym and sometimes did leg lifts in my dorm room. Occasionally, I took the stairs instead of the elevator if I wasn’t too hungover. I thought I was in pretty good shape and was happy with my activity level. I didn’t really consider the fact that besides a few thirty minute sessions at a very low intensity on the elliptical, I was sitting around in class, sleeping in late and consuming an unbalanced amount of pizza and beer.
After a few years of continuing these patterns, I moved to Seattle for grad school. I joined a gym and stuck with my basic workout routine. Then one day, a friend asked me to go on a hike and my whole world changed. I had never before experienced that kind of firey burn in my legs, or pounding in my chest. As we made the steep climb up the Snow Lake trail in the Snoqualmie Mountains, I found myself thinking, “I can’t do this.” I had never experienced that kind of physical fatigue before. I persevered up to the top and as my view expanded to a deep blue alpine lake surrounded by craggly mountains, I experienced a new feeling of satisfaction. I had never seen anything so beautiful before and I immediately forgot about the past few hours of physical suffering. We ran down to the lake, ate the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich I had ever had and jumped into that freezing blue lagoon.
This experience was a life changer because it flipped a switch in my perspective. I realized that there was a difference between “A person who works out, ” and “an active person.” These may sound like the same thing but to me the difference is huge. Before this point, I was sedentary, with the exception of a few hours a week. Because I sometimes worked out, I thought I was active, but I wasn’t considering what I was actually spending the majority of my time doing, which was sitting on my a**. After this moment, I realized the shift that I wanted to make. I wanted to spend the majority of my time being active and the key to doing so was finding activities that I enjoyed; exercise that didn’t seem like exercise.
It started with hiking for me. After hiking Snow Lake, I was curious to see the beauty that the Northwest had in store. I am extremely blessed to live in a part of the country where hiking is such a rewarding option for physical activity. For a few years, I moved away to the midwest, which I absolutely loved. I found a similar joy in walking. I lived in a beautiful neighborhood in Kentucky, full of old southern homes and an Olmstead Park. I could walk for hours exploring the neighborhoods. But I felt this tug at my heart as I was really missing the mountains and water of the Pacific Northwest. I moved to Portland for many reasons, but a desire to get back to the outdoor beauty of the Northwest was a major one.
The Snow Lake hike made realize how far from being in shape I actually was. I realized I needed to strengthen my muscles and increase my cardiovascular endurance if I wanted to get in better hiking shape. My indoor workouts shifted to more of a training for my outdoor activities. I started doing more Boot Camp/Resistance training classes, like the ones we offer at Nourish Northwest. Our classes our based on the concept of functional fitness, serving a purpose other than just to burn calories. I soon realized I could climb bigger peaks with less of a struggle. My weekend plans shifted from wanting to stay out late partying to wanting to go to bed early so I could get up and hike.
Exploring new surroundings through hiking ignited a curiosity to discover more of the outdoors, which in turn led to snowboarding, cross-country skiing, swimming and surfing. For the first time, I looked at my body as a means to discover new places. I felt really strong and it felt amazing. Opportunities and exciting adventures were turing up left and right. Vacations shifted from laying on a beach to going on a yoga and surfing retreat. A day off of work or school meant an extra few hours to go to a yoga class, rather than sleeping in. My career even started down a new path and I became a certified personal trainer.
It took me almost a decade to really make this shift and the truth is it’s not always easy and I don’t always make the healthier choice. Sometimes I have a late night out with friends and miss that morning yoga class. Sometimes that’s ok, because relationships are important too and the big picture is what we’re looking at here. But if I do that too many days/weekends in a row my body makes sure to remind me of how much better I feel when I spend more time on physical activity. Feeling good is enough of a motivator to keep me on this path.
Now, working as a trainer and a dietitian, I see many clients who struggle to fit any type of exercise into their day. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say they have a gym membership that they pay for monthly and don’t use. I think back to my gym days and can’t even stand to think about going into a big box gym to rotate my legs around on an elliptical. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of exercise at all, but what I realize now is that it wasn’t enjoyable to me, and that is the most important factor in making the shift towards an active lifestyle.
Time is another barrier that prevents many people from exercising. With working long hours, doing household chores, cooking and sometimes caring for family members, this often leaves little time for exercise and that is a very real challenge. I encourage people to figure out how to fit activity into these daily tasks. Take the kids to the park, up the anti on your movement as you’re doing those chores, center family weekend time around doing something active. Remember to find activities you enjoy.
I know that recommending a lifestyle change is certainly a lot to expect of anyone. This is just my story and what I found to be effective for me. The type of activities I enjoy and the amount of time I can devote to doing them has fluctuated throughout the years. Although I would love to spend everyday exploring the beautiful outdoors, the reality is that a 30 minute HIIT class is all I can squeeze in most weekdays. As soon as you start looking at exercise as something you look forward to rather than an obligation, things are going to start to change. So, I encourage you to try many things. It might be hiking or it might be dancing, martial arts, biking, running, walking or rock climbing. If you try it and don’t enjoy it, try something else, but keep exploring because there is something out there for everyone.