Never Too Late

During a period of two weeks that contained bad sleep, evening social plans, and a blood donation, I skipped several boxing classes. Instead, on many days, I took long walks, jumped rope on the patio, did a 20-minute workout with hand weights, and played volleyball. I love walking, especially up the hill to the east. It takes me up into some beautiful neighborhoods and then steeply down all the way to the lakeshore, so that on the way back I can challenge myself by jogging up the hill, or at least walking fast. I get exercise, and I get to indulge my habit of staring into other people’s flower gardens or admiring pretty houses.
I also really like working out with the jumprope and weights on the patio in our back yard. Being out in the air, under the sky, and looking around at my plants is much more fun than lifting weights in the house. But when I work out at home, I don’t push myself the way I do at the boxing classes.
During this break in my routine, I’ve realized that I want a new and different physical challenge. What I think I’m most interested in is trying soccer. This would let me explore the new appreciation of team sports that I’ve gotten from volleyball. I sent email to the Washington State Women’s Soccer Association and the Greater Seattle Soccer League, asking them if they’ll take an inexperienced but fit woman and teach her to play. This seems like a lot to ask, since they are leagues of competitive teams and I’ve never played, but it’s worth a try.
What I would be looking for is a new and strenuous outdoor workout and a rewarding team experience. I really am excited about having finally learned to see playing a team sport as a fun type of challenge instead of as guaranteed humiliation. Well-intentioned Title IX, which took effect when I was in first or second grade, meant that as a girl, I had to compete with boys who were more experienced with the games and who hated girls. As an adult, I’ve had to take people’s word for it that girls now enjoy sports in school. Obviously something has changed since I was there. It will be a tremendous leap for me if I can experience that enjoyment at the ripe age of 39. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood, says my favorite bumper sticker.
I also have plans to take classes this fall toward a certificate in technical writing, so if either of the soccer leagues will take me I’ll have to wait and see how my fall schedule works out.

In Good Habits We Trust

It’s easy to berate yourself for skipping workouts and to worry about backsliding. Diet and fitness writers always remind readers not to beat yourself up, but to get back on the wagon and keep your eyes on your goals. I want to add the idea that if you’ve been exercising regularly, exercise has probably become a habit. You can probably trust this good habit to persist in the same way that bad habits seem to do. If you’ve seen exciting rewards from exercising, it makes even more sense to think this good habit will stay with you.
I’ve had some unusual stress recently that has prevented me from sleeping well. Anxiety and lack of sleep has made me feel so depleted that I’ve skipped some of my workout classes, which are challenging even when I’m well rested.
Each time I skip a workout, I wonder if I’m going into a backslide and am about to start gaining weight again. But I can look back over many years and see clear patterns in my exercise habits. Many active routines, such as bike commuting or going to the Y, became boring after a while, or I needed a break for some other reason. Looking back, each time I took a break, I always returned to the routine (or found a new one, if I needed a change). My activity level was not always high enough to keep me fit and trim, but still, the habit of being active always persisted.
Lately, with the boxing workouts, the exercise habit has been strengthened by its rewards, which I have no intention of giving up. The rewards, increased fitness, strength, and athletic abilities, reinforce the good habit that caused them. I’m more committed than ever to staying as fit as I can through activities I enjoy.
During this tired week, when I’ve started to feel like a couch potato, I’ve asked myself what I’ve actually done each day. Almost every day that didn’t include a boxing workout included a bike ride, yard work, a long walk, or any combination of the three. I know I can trust in the active habits I’ve developed and know that I’ll go back to the gym as soon as I’m ready.

Strengthening the Lower Back

A friend of mine said she wants to start riding her bike more, but when she went for a ride recently, she wound up having a sore lower back for several days. This made me wonder what’s the best way to start strengthening a weak lower back without lifting weights.
The best list of exercises I found on the Web is on a University of Chicago Student Care Center page. It describes seven simple exercises, with illustrations lower down on the same page.
Each exercise performed while lying on your back includes the instruction “hold a pelvic tilt while you perform the exercise.” (The pelvic tilt itself is exercise No. 1.) This means keep your lower back pressed against the floor, not letting it arch up at all. If this is difficult, spend more time on the pelvic tilt exercise alone and master it before going on to the others. They won’t be effective, and can add to any aches and pains you’re having, if you can’t keep the lower back flat against the floor while doing them.
Aside from these exercises, the U of C site lists other activities for strengthening the back that include walking, bicycling, swimming, and cross-country skiing. It also lists some exercises and sports to avoid because they can stress the back.
If I were to suggest an exercise program to help my friend work up to longer bike rides, I’d say start by taking walks. While walking, concentrate on keeping your back tall and straight. Instead of letting the lower back sag, hold it up by keeping your abs just a little taut. Flex the butt to pull your body forward as each heel comes down in front of you. Walking up a slight incline can make it easier to feel the pull forward from the heel through the butt. Don’t lean forward or pull through your knees.
At home, work on the pelvic tilt with knees raised as well as with legs flat on the floor. Add the other six exercises to your routine when you can do them while holding the pelvic tilt.
These suggestions come from combining the instruction on the U of C site linked above with what I’ve learned about posture and alignment at Cappy’s Boxing Gym. See a doctor before dramatically increasing your exercise or if you think you have an injury that might make these exercises unsafe for you.

Bike Ride

Links to two very different, inspiring writers, one who is all about fitness and one who just happens to be extremely active. This column contains ideas and reminders about good posture and creating a reliable connection between mind and body. It’s by Holly Rustick, the current Ms. Fitness Hawaii (here’s an interesting article about how she got there) and an enterprising woman who seems very down to earth about all this fitness stuff. I’d love to go to Hawaii and take her workout classes. (Dream on.)
The other writer I want to link to is a Seattle woman named Helen, who has been keeping her online journal since 1997. She has to be one of the longest-running, most committed online journal-keepers out there. On top of that, she has one of the most beautiful journals I’ve read. Her introspective pieces and her descriptions of epic Northwest bike rides are both so eloquent that I’m going to keep reading her as a challenge to improve my own writing. As an inspiration to just get out there and do something big, take a look at this entry on a rural bike ride in Eastern Washington’s desert. I found Helen via Anita Rowland.
After spending way too much time yesterday browsing Helen’s archives, which read like a beautifully detailed memoir, I was inspired to try a new and longer-than-usual bike ride today. I love long bike rides, but most of my recent bike rides have been only six or eight miles (though hilly). I want to do more exploring this summer while I have some free time.
I rode down to Montlake Ave. and the freeway, where you catch the bus across Lake Washington to the Eastside, and put my bike on the bus. I got off at the first stop on the other side and pedaled the rest of the way eastward to Microsoft to meet Tom for lunch. The route follows the north side of highway 520. It’s partly a paved bike trail and partly the shoulder of Northup Way, a fast-moving suburban street.
I rode 50 minutes from the time I got off the bus until I met Tom at his building. Based on that, my round trip door-to-door may have been about 16 miles. I want to work my way up to riding all the way around both of the lakes in one big loop. There’s a really good bike route map for the whole county, so finding the route would not be too hard—but it would be an all-day ride. I’ve got to get a battery for my bike odometer.

Taking Up Space versus Emotional Eating

Diet and pop-psychology pundits define “emotional eating” as using food to comfort ourselves when we’re upset or stressed, even if we’re not hungry. They suggest we replace eating, under those circumstances, with other ways to comfort ourselves. This makes sense to me in principle, but last week another way of expressing the concept came together in my mind. For me, emotional eating is what I do when I’ve tried to take up more space in my life and feel frustrated or anxious instead of gratified. The relationship between taking up space and eating was new to me. (Except in its physical sense!)
Taking up space in life means asserting your needs, expecting them to be met, and doing what it takes to make that happen in a constructive way. Obviously, asserting yourself and following through can sometimes lead to obstacles and fears as well as to rewards. A while back I listed, just for fun, ways in which I’d like to take up more space. I tried to dream big, but my list contained a surprising number of small convenience items that had been bugging me. One was fixing my three leaky car tires, which needed filling every time I was at the gas station. Why should I put up with that?
The service station guy said I should come on in. But he didn’t have time to look at all three of the leakers right then, so he asked me to come back in two days. Frustrated in the day’s mission, I bought and ate a bunch of chips and pop with my lunch. I felt entitled to a treat.
I don’t always resort to food when I’m frustrated. I’ve become very aware of that urge, and I can often deflect it. This time it took me by surprise, but the triviality of the frustration (waiting two days) made the chain of events easy to see. My resolve, directed at having a specific need met, lost its direction and zoomed off at random. The goal and the motivation were no longer specific (fix the tires because I want a reliable car). They were vague (do something that is just for me).
The connection between the desire to assert and meet my needs, and the urge to eat, is clearer to me than the concept of emotional eating for comfort. I don’t need to comfort myself; I need to assert myself, take up more space in life, define my needs and meet them. In fact, extrapolating maybe too far, are we infantilizing ourselves if we assume we need so much comfort? We’re not babies. Maybe what we feel isn’t a need for comfort; maybe it’s bottled-up energy. We can try to channel that energy into achieving what we want, even if it’s something as small as fixing the tires or making ourselves a healthy meal.
Seeing this connection makes me want to ask myself in the future, when I have an uncharacteristic food craving, “What constructive thing can I do to assert my needs and meet them, instead of eating half a bag of Ruffles?” Maybe some of the time I’ll come up with a good idea, accomplish something, or make an exciting plan.