And Now for Something Completely Different

Al pudgy 18 years old
Flabby Allison at 18 years Old

I was chatting on the side with listener David Price about general life stuff and I happened to mention that I get a lot of exercise. He asked me some questions about how I manage so much exercise. He said that he knows he needs to exercise but that he can’t seem to find a way to do it.

I philosophize on this subject often in my real life and I thought I might take a break from tech here an talk about how I figured figured this out.

Exercise Was a Journey for Me

Let’s start back when I was five years old, and my father had his first heart attack at age 43. He was very tall at 6′ 4″ but was severely overweight. He smoked, he drank, he considered shell fish in cream sauce a major dietary staple, he traveled a lot for business, and had an office job. In retrospect, it sure wasn’t a surprise that he had a heart attack so young.

I watched him change his habits, lose about 70 lbs, become a moderate drinker, and quit smoking. He lived to be 79 which he considered a miracle. Watching his transformation stayed in the back of my mind and helped shape my desire to not go down that path.

My upbringing included zero organized exercise or sports of any kind. I even got out of being in physical education in high school by being in marching band. When I went away to college, there was an all you can eat buffet. The only reason I didn’t actually double in size is that I never made it up in time for breakfast, but trust me, that buffet still did plenty of damage. I dieted like everyone else, but I never kept it off.

After Steve and I were married he convinced me to join a gym. I hated every minute of it and only went because he made me. These were the days of aerobics – think Olivia Newton John headbands and leg warmers. Even with that awesome music and leotards, I still hated going two to three days a week.

Al determination disney 58 years old
Allison Fit at 58 Years Old

We changed gyms and it got a bit better. It was nicer, and I think more importantly it was partway between our home and work. The other gym wasn’t that far, but it was in the opposite direction. We went at lunch together for a long time but eventually Steve’s schedule changed so he started going at 5 am. Trust me, I’ve never gotten up that early unless it was to go on vacation.

And one day I noticed I was going by myself, with no one making me do it. I’ve tried to pinpoint where the tipping point was and what caused it, but a fundamental shift had happened in my thinking.

As a woman I was constantly taking care of others. I had my kids, my husband, my employees, my bosses and my parents. Everyone wanted a piece of me. It was then that I realized that the only completely selfish thing I did was go to the gym. Gradually, “I have to go to the gym” had turned into “I get to go to the gym.”

Thinking about this path when talking to David, I tried to break down how I think this happened and why exercise is now a gift to me, not a chore. Here’s some fundamentals that I think might help those of you who wish you were in better shape.

When Are You Most Motivated?

I’ve seen people (usually in January) say, “I’m going to get up at 5 am and run on a treadmill for an hour every single day!” These people fail. At the gym we fondly call them the “New Years Resolution People”. I follow them around suggesting eating a cheeseburger might be more fun. No, not really. Maybe.

Think about what you WILL do before you start. If you’re not a morning person, don’t even pretend you’re going to work out in the morning. It isn’t going to happen. If you’re energized when you wake up, then you go girl, that will work for you. If you’ve got kids or church that demands your time in the evenings, then don’t pretend you’re going to go after work. Figure out when you’re the most motivated to get exercise, even if you’re only barely motivated, start there.

I mentioned that my gym was between home and work. I think the place you exercise is almost as important as when. If you have to go out of your way, you might last three weeks, but that’s not going to happen in week four. Personally if you have to pick one location, pick something near work since you’re there a lot more waking hours than you are at home. If you work from home, including stay at home parents, then your exercise better be near home!

What Will You Do?

If you get bored easily, don’t even consider running on a treadmill unless you can figure out a way around that. Maybe listening to music or podcasts, or perhaps watching Netflix on your iPad will work for you. If you get cold easily, don’t think you’ll swim laps in the pool. If you work or live in a sketchy neighborhood, don’t pretend to yourself that you’ll walk after dark. Think about what you will do just like you did about when. Feel free to try different things: biking, tennis, rowing, basketball, soccer. There are so many different options out there, keep looking till you find something that you WILL do.

How to Find the Time

One thing that’s not going to happen is that you’re not going to suddenly find more hours in the day. If you think getting up an hour earlier will work, take a look at the other end of the day. You just collapsed an hour earlier. I’m convinced that you have to look at exercise the way you manage your budget. If you’re any good at budgeting at all, you make sure there’s money for food and shelter first, and if there’s money left after that you can have toys. (Credit to Paula, a trainer at the Bay Club where I work out,  who taught me to think about exercise and eating like a budget.)

It might help to keep at least a mental log on where you spend your hours. If you work really long hours, maybe evaluate whether those hours are really meeting your life goals, or whether it’s just because someone else thinks you should work more. If you sit around watching TV for 4 or 5 hours every night, or playing video games for hours on end, consider if that’s the way you want to spend your time. Maybe that is what you want to do, but make the decision to do it, don’t accidentally spend your time in a way that doesn’t bring you joy.

What if you study the way you spend your time and you just can’t find any to spend on exercise. Well here’s an idea for you. If you work in an office job, how many times a day does someone come by to ask you for help, and they say they only need a minute? I guarantee that’s never less than 15 minutes. When this happens, say “Sure, let’s walk and talk at the same time.” I guarantee you’ll find the discussion more productive and ideas will flow faster if you try this. In 15-20 minutes of brisk walking, you can crank out a mile too. I started doing this at work and it was amazing how much better our conversations were. Before you know it, you’ll find other people following suit.

Here’s another observation. Have you noticed that women are often really cold at work? There’s a reason for that. According to a New York Times report on a study done in the Netherlands, the heating profiles in most office buildings are based on a formula that uses demographics from the 1960s. They assume that the resting metabolic rate is that of a 40 year old man who weighs 154 pounds. Since women are generally smaller and generate less heat, the average office building is much colder than intended. In addition, the men in the 1960s wore wool suits to work, but they don’t today and women certainly don’t. While this tends to make the women even more uncomfortable, even the men are often cold.

So why do I bring up the temperature in an article about exercise? Because that brisk 15-20 minute walk will heat you right up! I know I have an advantage living in Southern California but you can do this walk indoors, or up and down stairs, whatever it takes to burn some calories and get your temperature up.

And here’s an even bigger tip. After you work out at the gym, climb up and down multiple flights of stairs or take a walk around the building, your bran will be more alert and you’ll perform better than your employees who went out for hot dogs or burritos or worse yet worked through lunch. Trust me on this, I worked out at lunch every day and I could positively run circles mentally around my co-workers after lunch.

Make a Commitment to Yourself

One of the biggest steps I made mentally in my quest to exercise was to look at it as a commitment. Think about it. If you have a commitment to your boss, and something comes up, do you blow it off? Nope. What about your spouse or your kids or your church or your employees or your buddies? If you commit to doing something, you do it, right? You said you’d be there so you’re there.

If you look at exercise as a commitment to yourself, how can you say that commitment is any less important? I know for women it’s very hard to think this way, and it’s probably true for men as well. The first time I thought of this was when a boss wanted me to go to a lunch meeting, and I told him I had a commitment, my daily workout. And guess what? It worked. He said he could work around it. Now of course sometimes this won’t work. But it doesn’t have to always work to be a good strategy.

I became emboldened by the success of this and eventually I decided that whenever I got a new boss, I would just tell them that I work out at lunch. People say to their bosses that they have child care so they can’t be in till 8, or they have a van pool so they have to leave by 4:30. Why can’t you say you work out at a specific time? Not every boss will fall for this but a surprising percentage of mine accommodated my schedule. I figured if I didn’t tell them, it was only my fault if they scheduled over my workouts.

Remember, this is a commitment to yourself that becomes, “I get to go to the gym”.

Where to Find the Energy

One of the most common things people say to me is that they don’t have the energy to exercise like I do. Well I’m going to let you in on the biggest secret. Listen up. Exercise is where you go to GET energy. I know, counterintuitive, right? You’d think you’re spending it, but somehow you gain energy. My friends at the gym often talk about this. We come in dragging, yawning, walking slowly and then work out and we have a spring in our step.

This won’t happen immediately, by the way. The first month or so might be the other way around. But I promise you, over time you’ll find a spring in your step just like us.

How Often is Enough to Work Out

When I first started exercising, it was 2-3 times a week. They say that’s good, but it really isn’t. It isn’t good because you’re lying to yourself when you say that. If you try for 2-3 times a week, you’re really going 1-2 times. I knew a guy once who tried to go once a week. But that’s a whole ‘other kind of delusion there. The problem is that when you go infrequently, you find yourself saying, “Oh, I’ll go tomorrow.” And that happens the next day too. Pretty soon those excuses add up, and unless you work out three days straight at the end of the week, you might work out only once.

Here’s a crazy idea. Shoot for every day. Seriously, this works. If you decide to work out every day, even if it’s only 15 minutes, you can’t say, “I’ll go tomorrow” because your’e already going tomorrow. For some reason this made it way easier for me to keep the habit permanently. When you commit to 7 days a week, a really bad week is 5 workouts!

Back to what will you do again, don’t set a goal of 7 days a week an hour a day. You aren’t going to do that more than a week or two at most. Start small. Do 7 days a week, but a 15 minute walk around the block every day. Pretty soon you’ll be doing two laps, or grabbing your bike on weekends, or joining a soccer team. It’s addictive, I promise you.

Two Last Thoughts

I have really bad news for you. No matter how much you exercise, if you’re overweight, you have to stop eating as much. I really wish this weren’t true, but I worked my way up to 45 minutes a day of running and elliptical workouts and it wasn’t until I started tracking my food that I really lost the weight I wanted to lose. I wish I had better news, but it’s true.

Now my strategy is to work out to compensate for how much I want to eat. Again, it’s like a budget – you don’t spend more than you make, don’t eat more than you burn, or burn less than you eat!

And finally I want to tell you what my boss, Bich told me about 20 years ago. He said, “So Allison, you work out 7 days a week, 45 minutes a day. That’s 275 hours a year, or 11 days in a year. If you do this for 50 years, you may live 10 years longer than me, but you spent all that time in the GYM!”

Well, technically he was right. But guess what? Those will be 50 healthy, energetic years where I feel good.

8 thoughts on “And Now for Something Completely Different

  1. Denise Deverelle Crown - December 8, 2016

    Great post and sound advice… Not to mention that we are all happier people with some endorphins circulating.

  2. Rush Sherman - December 8, 2016

    Great post. Another helpful hint can be to find a couple of buddies at work who are willing to join you for a regular exercise break. As social creatures many of us don’t want to disappoint our friends. So this helps overcome the toughest part… getting out there. Once you are outside with friends you will have a great time and your friendship will naturally grow stronger too (side benefit as you share life experiences together over the years).

  3. Allister - December 8, 2016

    Another trick to use is to look at how you get from place A to place B. If walking is an option, do it! And when you’re walking from A to B, don’t dawdle! When I first got a FitBit I switched from strolling 1.1km through the city to work, to power walking 1.8km along the waterfront. It’s now an ingrained habit which not only gives me the benefit of the exercise without even thinking about it, but I also have a pretty wicked shortcut available should I need it – cutting nearly 40% off the distance if I’m in a hurry.

  4. George - December 9, 2016

    Exercise and physical conditioning is good for you, until it isn’t.

    I played racquetball (hard) every day, until I couldn’t. Then limped around with a bum knee.

    A guy I know was tired, a marathon runner. He upped his gym time, thinking to build more stamina. Set and met a personal “dead lift” goal, the photo made him look like a circus weight lifter.

    Not much later he’s walking uphill and having trouble catching his breath. The next day he’s in surgery for an emergency quadruple bypass.

    Knees, tendons, joints, arteries age and wear out, and the downside of exercise that comes with its undeniable benefit is increasing wear, tear, and injury.

    Immediately after reading Allison’s post here, I flipped open the Brookstone “Christmas Catalog.” An amazingly large part of what is on offer are devices to alleviate pain and suffering caused by exercise. $10,000 vibrating, heating, massage chairs, and pages more.

    Be careful, be sensible, make sure your health insurance covers the kinds of injuries you may sustain, and instead of powering through pain as a “man” or “grrrl,” listen to your symptoms –

  5. George Conant - December 9, 2016

    Allison, this is a great post. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. podfeet - December 9, 2016

    Thanks George C! And thanks George from Tulsa as well. Your bottom line sentence makes sense but the earlier anecdotes are just that. If you exercise and become more fit, you will quite possibly avoid debilitating and incurable health issues, like heart disease, diabetes and more. I would rather have to have a new knee put in than have to have bypass surgery. But that’s just me.

    The anecdote about the marathon runner who became a weight lifter and then needed bypass surgery most likely had nothing to do with his exercise. We don’t know anything about his cholesterol levels or his diet, do we? Weight lifting didn’t cause his bypass to be required.

    As you say, listen to your body, but also pay attention to what excuses your brain is trying to come up with to not exercise.

  7. George - December 9, 2016

    Hey, Allison, I know a lot about the marathoner who could have blown his gasket at the gym grunting weights up he shouldn’t have been (then) lifting.

    He was in incredible physical condition, ate sensibly most of the time, never smoked, enjoyed a few brews, and his conditioning is probably WHY he had the fastest and easiest bypass surgery I’ve ever witnessed.

    His problem: most likely DNA. A younger brother fell over dead jogging in his early thirties.

    Anecdotes, as the adage goes, aren’t data. But my point about the weight lifter is that he was ignoring messages from his body that he couldn’t breathe right, and if you saw the stress he was under playing “Incredible Hulk,” you’d wonder why even someone healthy didn’t pop a gasket right then.

    The most serious injury I ever sustained involved a baseball thrown out of turn in a Little League Warmup of criss cross catch. Baseball, meet head.

    I recall still coming to, bloody and dazed, and the **** coach standing over me saying, “Don’t cry, be a man.”

    Getting off our ***** is good for us. If we don’t feel good enough to get off our *****, then it’s time to see a doc, if we don’t know why we’re unable to get movin’

    As to bypass vs knee replacement, this is just another anecdote. I know more people who’ve died from complications of knee replacements than bypass surgery.

    Exercise sensibly! But be alert, and don’t play through pain. The dogs and I passed up our routine this morning at 15F with windchill below 13.

  8. George - December 9, 2016

    The NY Times has a lengthy and helpful “Exercise In-Depth Report”

    Given the problems WP/Podfeet seems to have with my links, Google it by the title in quotes above.

    Here’s a segment about sudden cardiac death –

    “Listening for Warning Signs.

    It should be noted that according to one study, at least 40% of young men who die suddenly during a workout have previously experienced, and ignored, warning signs of heart disease. In addition to avoiding risky activities, the best preventive tactic is simply to listen to the body and seek medical help at the first sign of symptoms during or following exercise. These symptoms include the following:

    Irregular heartbeat
    Shortness of breath
    Chest pain.”

    The man I described who tried to fight through the symptom “shortness of breath” while running by lifting massive dead weights could well have “blown a gasket” as his “Widow Maker” artery was almost completely blocked.

    Nope, it wasn’t the weight lifting per se that would have killed him, but the extreme weight lifting which he shouldn’t have been doing.

    Do I know anything about his history? You betcha’ Former military, he’s always exercised, low baody fat, never smoked, his wife moderates his diet and helps him stay on the low cholesterol side. Likes beer and wine, but not to excess, and moderate alcohol consumption is often said to be “good” for you.

    He’s not a youngster, but his heart problem aside is in excellent overall health.

    His problem was thinking he could “power through” when he should have been at the doctor’s office. An issue which tends to afflict we males in the USA. Maybe worldwide?

    With all his excellent lifetime of self-care, his problem was most likely DNA. His younger brother fell over dead in his early thirties, while jogging.

    The upside is that because of his excellent physical condition going into major heart surgery, he had the fastest and easiest bypass recovery I’ve ever witnessed.

    Now there’s an adage my statistician friends often mention, “The plural of anecdote is not data.”

    So true, still, here’s an anecdote for you.

    You said you’d prefer knee replacement to bypass?

    Purely anecdotal, but I’ve known any number of men to survive bypass, without fatality, but knee and hip? The guy with in the Cloak with Scythe seems to be haning about.

    Actual statistics of knee surgery vs bypass show bypass is safer. Then, when you need a bypass, you’re already in trouble.

    Today I skipped my early morning doggle walking mile and a half. It was 15F with windchill of 13. Hey, I could have done it, what with my multiple layers of cold weather gear. Even the doggles have coats, in addition to their own fur ones.

    Could have done it, just couldn’t force myself (or the poor low lying dogs) out for more than “necessity,” then back to the warmth. Don’t want to feel guilty about the choice. Don’t want hiding under the blanket to become habitual.

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