Project Louise: Turning A Corner — Or Walking In Circles?

(Sweet light/Flickr)

(Sweet light/Flickr)

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

I feel as if I’ve turned a corner. Then again, several times so far in this project I’ve felt as if I’ve turned a corner. And if I keep turning corners in the same direction, of course, I’ll end up going in circles. Which is also how I sometimes feel.

But on my more optimistic days – and this, for whatever reason, is one of them – the circles feel more like an upward spiral. I may have been in this spot before, but each time I return to it, I’m a tiny bit wiser and a tiny bit more likely to keep moving upward. That’s my hope, anyway.

The corner I’ve turned this time is the discovery that I can actually enjoy exercise. I felt that in spades last week, during – and after – my exhilarating bike ride on the Cape. And the glow from that ride made it easy to hear, and agree with, my editor Carey Goldberg’s latest tip.

She’d been talking with an expert about what to do with me – how to get me really into the groove of exercising every day. She’d suggested, to both me and the expert, that maybe she should write me a “scary” letter about all the bad feelings that come from not exercising – not so much the long-term effects, which we all know, but the daily fatigue, ennui, anxiety and general blah-ness that she gets on the days she fails to work out.

I thought it might work, but it didn’t exactly fill me with joy. And her source vetoed it outright. Better, she said, to get me to think more about my motivations for exercising – not the bad things that will happen if I don’t, but the good things that I’m aiming toward by changing my ways. That does feel more helpful. And so does the next tip: to stop demanding that I work out three times a week, or do more all the time, or whatever burdens I place on myself and then feel guilty about dropping. Instead, just make one appointment: one time in the week when I will do something physical.

So I did. I planned to ride my bike yesterday morning.

And then I didn’t do it.

But – and this is the important part – even though my family plans changed and made it hard to get out that morning, the knowledge that I had an “appointment” with myself made me reschedule it for the afternoon. At that time, it turned out to be simpler to go for a long, brisk walk in the woods with my son. And if that sounds like cheating, you try keeping up with a 6-foot 16-year-old who’s been running and lifting weights.

Best of all, it was fun. It was a beautiful day, and we were walking a path that I remembered taking with him as a toddler, past a pond where we’d watched for frogs. They were still there, and we were just as happy to see them. And we talked, not about anything much but just in the casual, happy way you can do when you’re striding along in the woods with someone you love.

This isn’t “working out.” This is life. And it’s good.

And here’s the thing: I can’t wait to do it again.

Even if I’m walking in circles, I think I really am getting somewhere.

Readers, are you getting closer to your health goals? If so, what works for you? And if not, is there one thing you could do this week?

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  • peems

    This is my first time to a blog but I am enjoying your project and progress. I am working on adding vegetables to my diet and scheduling one bike ride and two walks each week. Have felt in a rut and gained weight last year; need to turn this around.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thanks so much for your comment, and good luck with your goals! I think you’ve picked great ways to start climbing out of the rut. It’s a challenge, but the more you climb, the better you feel. Go for it!

  • Ray

    By George you’ve got it! All of you have described exercise as part of living, something I’ve been doing for awhile and just realized it. My upward spiral involves a scattershot approach including going to each task as it occurs to me instead of setting things aside and doing them all at once. I move something from the bedroom to the kitchen and return even though I know I could save steps by doing more later, very often march in place while doing stationary tasks and move about my residence in short jogging steps. I only recently got a good bike about the same time I moved and where I live now there is a fairly steep hill to climb to get out to riding space. I must form a habit to mount my bike rack on the car and get out of here. (The obvious thing to do would be to ride up the hill, but I’m not quite up to that, a late senior with an ailment that involves anemia.) As the saying goes “(spiraling) onward and upward!”

    • Ray

      And then of course, being a music lover I often dance, happy that no one is watching, surprised at the moves I’ve got (-8

      • Louise Kennedy

        Who was it who said “Dance as if no one is watching”? I love this, Ray — keep those moves going!

  • lindam313

    Yes! Exercise is something that is “naturally” incorporated into life. One hundred years ago, most people didn’t need to “hit the gym” since they had to sit and grip a horse, walk everywhere, etc to get where they needed to go. If you wanted to heat your house, had to shovel coal, chop wood (I chopped a stump out the last weekend and hadn’t chopped wood in probably decades and boy did my hands hurt all week from the jarring!) Exercise wasn’t separated from life the way it is now and I think that is why it is seen as another “task” – reestablishing the joy of being in one’s body, enjoying the sweat, labor, etc is really the only way to go. I must say tho that because I am fairly fit, removing the stump was a challenge to myself and I felt stupidly proud that I “won” and that at 56 I could still do harder labor and do it quickly and efficiently. I mentioned to one of my students at school that I had done that and he looked at me quizzically and said he had done that and it was hard work. I must say I enjoyed that too – mess up people’s images of “old” people! It’s all just a mental game and how you play leads to how you feel about it I guess. You’re finding your way in the game – if you feel like you’re going in circles, think NASCAR – driving around in circles leads to adjustments to the vehicle, the correct speed, bumping into people along the way, refueling, breakdowns, teamwork, but eventually someone wins and they celebrate! Along the way, 500 miles are covered and life keeps moving, even if it’s in circles.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Thank you, Lindam! I “worked” instead of “working out” this weekend — and have the blisters to prove it. It felt great, and it reinforced my sense that I need to feel as if I’m accomplishing something worthwhile by moving, not just spinning my hamster wheel. Definitely more to think about on this…but the metaphors of the game and NASCAR are both very helpful. Life keeps moving!

  • alexafleckensteinmd

    Little exercises – each one requiring less than a minute – keep me moving throughout the day. For instance, jumping up and down on the spot (no gear , gym or outfit necessary!) 21 times. All my exercises are 21 times: squats, pushing against a wall, forward bends, heel lifts, and so on – I am thinking up new ones all the time. I hate boring.

    Standing on one leg while brushing my teeth is good for balance and less tedious than Kegel exercises. Walking each evening with my husband is less exercise than marriage.

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Love this — especially the part about making up new ones all the time. Boredom is the enemy, I agree.

  • Bella

    I like the idea of circles being an upward spiral! I started tracking my food intake this week with Sparkpeople. I’m not sure if weight loss is my goal, but it helps give me a “stop eating” signal and makes me better at planning out lunches and dinners.

    I also got my summer sports gear ready – filling bike tires, got out back packs, hauled kayak up from basement, etc. This gives me more options to choose from instead of just the gym, which helps keep things interesting. I definitely like it when exercise is part of the activity I’m doing, instead of something I need to get over with so I can get on with my day.

    • Louise Kennedy

      Yes, I think you’re on to something here — making exercise part of whatever you’re doing, not an add-on that has to be gotten over with. And I’ll be interested to hear if Sparkpeople helps. I joined it but have not kept up with it — the last thing I feel like doing is spending more time on the computer! But if it’s worth it, I’ll give it another shot.