The Key To Exercising Regularly? Set The Bar Low

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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Twenty minutes a day, 5 or 6 days a week. Those are my fitness goals. That’s it.

In those 20 minutes, I can jog/walk for almost 2 miles, or roll out my yoga mat and do the simple yoga routine I learned all those years ago, before kids.

Nothing I do is too strenuous. My goal is to break a sweat and get the rush of feel-good hormones that come after exercise. At this point in my life, I don’t exercise so that I’ll have a beautifully chiseled figure or drop a few dress sizes. That was definitely part of my goal when I was younger, but not so much anymore.

I exercise so that I can catch up to my kids as they race down the block. I exercise because I think I should be able to touch my toes and have decent enough abs so my back won’t blow out every time I bend down and pick my kids’ crap off the floor.

While I do yoga, I make sure to add in a few kegels wherever I can, because after two pregnancies and childbirths, I would be peeing every time I sneezed or laughed if I didn’t take some care of my pelvic floor.

I have only one body to carry me through this life, and I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to do with it. I know that if I don’t take care of it now, it’s going to start to break down at an astronomical rate — and I need it to stay in good enough shape so that I can chase my grandkids down the block too.

And I stick to my exercise routine. In fact, I’ve done about 20 minutes of exercise most days for the past 10 years of being a parent. When my kids were babies, I’d put them in a baby carrier and briskly walk around the neighborhood. Or I’d sneak in some yoga in the room where they were napping, sometimes having to stop the routine for a second to nurse or shush them back to sleep (my babies were really light nappers for the longest time).

Sometimes the 20-minute stretches into a half hour or even more. But if I told myself that I was going to do 30 minutes of exercise per day, I’d probably chicken out and not do it. For some reason, keeping it in the 20-minute range sounds much more doable to me. I know it makes no sense, but that’s the mind trip that works for me.

That’s the thing: Exercise has to be something that works for you and you alone. It has to be something that fits into your life, not something that feels like a burden.

I see so many people, especially around the new year, come out with all these brand-new fitness goals they’ve set for themselves. “Today’s the day I’m going to join the gym, and I’m going to go there every day,” or “OMG, I just started working out two hours a day using this fitness/diet, and I feel amazing.” (Note: This brand-new fitness/diet program is probably costing you an arm and a leg, and in all likelihood, you won’t stick to it anyway, so you might want to keep that in mind.)

If making those sorts of resolutions works for you, go for it. But I find that when people rush into exercise or other lifestyle changes with stars in their eyes (or after shelling out a few weeks’ paychecks), they are liable to not exactly stick to those goals, at least not for the long haul.

For me, a busy work-at-home mom of two rambunctious boys, I simply can’t commit to going to the gym or taking regular exercise classes. And as an introverted mom, I actually have no interest in exercising in groups or alongside others. Exercise is not only my time to break a sweat and stay in shape; it’s my “me time.” It’s the time when I get to listen to my music or bask in my silence.

Exercise helps me think and work out my stresses. It is healing, nourishing, and keeps me sane.

I believe that it’s important for all people to move their bodies daily, in whatever way works for them. As parents, we owe it to our children to carve out a few moments each day to take care of our physical health. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it doesn’t have to be for long. But it absolutely has to be something that fits into your life, is doable, and ends up being enjoyable.

Otherwise, it’s just not going to happen.

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