By Guest Blogger, Rebecca Weiss.
I used to joke and tell people I was allergic to exercise. It did seem that every time we were supposed to run around the track or play dodge ball in middle school I’d start to feel a bit unwell. Those Presidential Physical Fitness contests? I regularly threw up on those days. I think the main reason I hated exercise was that I couldn’t stand the sensation of being out of breath. It panicked me, and make me worry that I’d never catch my breath. It even led to some pretty serious anxiety issues as an adult. So, for the most part, when I ran as a kid, I would stop as soon as I wasn’t breathing normally. And, as a result, I never took to exercise. I did enjoy playing basketball in high school, but never really exerted myself because I hated the feel of my face getting red and my feet hitting the gym floor so heavily. I didn’t want to sweat in front of my classmates. I was too self-conscious to lose myself in the game.
And so, as an adult trying to improve my health and fitness level, I had to start from scratch. Now, people will tell you that all you have to do is walk a bit every day. And, certainly walking can be great exercise. But, I could walk so that I wasn’t burning any calories. My office is about a mile from Penn Station, with no good subway options, and I dreaded the walk every workday. I would adopt a slow pace, talk on my cell phone, take elevators or escalators when available—it wasn’t doing much for me. We all know that for exercise to have an impact you have to get your heart rate up. And, guess what, doing that might change your breathing or cause you to sweat. I did not want that.
One of my greatest role models for exercise was my paternal grandfather who, according to family lore, rode a stationary bike every day until his death at 92. So, at the age of 40, I bought a recumbent exercise bike. No one at the Sports Authority was any help, so I just picked the bike that felt the most comfortable in the store and wasn’t too expensive. Some people came to the house to set it up, and I was on my own. There were pre-set work out programs, a heart-rate checker, calorie counter and more, but I couldn’t figure out how to get my feet in the straps.
The first night I rode the bike for 10 minutes and thought I had made a terrible mistake. I had the tension set at level three (out of 10) and felt like my legs would fall off the entire time. My muscles were burning and I sensed that uncomfortable out-of-breath feeling creeping in. I hated hearing myself huffing and puffing for air. But, I told myself I had to keep trying to see if it got easier. And it did.
After about three weeks, I could ride at that same tension level for 20 minutes without feeling like I was going to die. I actually started to enjoy the feeling of sweat rolling down my face—it felt like I was accomplishing something. I settled into a routine of riding the bike for 30 minutes a night after my kids went to bed, while I watched all the trashy TV shows I could record on the DVR. The Real Housewives. The Soup. Say Yes to the Dress. Yes please! The best was Dancing with the Stars, as I found the music drove me to peddle faster.
After six months I was up to 35 minutes on some of the harder workout programs. I got used to the out-of-breath feeling, sometimes even embraced it. Look what my body can do! I can push myself to the point of discomfort and come out stronger. I don’t feel allergic anymore.
That time on the bike became “Me time.” I started to look forward to it. Even though the workouts were challenging, I craved them. I found that I was also pushing myself more on my walks to and from the office. Using the DWTS model, I listened to fast-paced music to inspire myself to walk faster. With my headphones on, I couldn’t hear myself huffing and puffing as my exertion increased. Using a pedometer helped me keep track of my distance and time, and showed me what a difference taking the stairs can make.
My dietician asked me recently if I think I will stick with this new routine, if it will be part of my life moving forward. I am almost positive that it will be. The truth is, I feel so much better now. I can run to catch my train without feeling that I’m over exerting myself. I have visible muscles in my thighs and calves that look great in skirts. I feel so amazing when I get off that bike each night—I don’t want to give that up.
I hope it means I’ll live to be 92 (or more), but for now it’s enough of a reward to see myself as someone who exercises regularly, and to have overcome fears that have slowed me down—literally—most of my life.
Rebecca Weiss is a writer, mom of two, and director of communications for a New York City auction house. In 2012 she started a fitness and wellness journey. She is a monthly contributor to Mom Dishes It Out.