Tag Archives: fitness

Exercise to Fit YOUR Life

One of the stupidest things I think I’ve ever tried to do is take up early-morning running as an exercise routine.

Why do I consider it stupid for me? Because I’m a) not a morning person, AT ALL, and b) I hate pointless walking and running. And yet, I attempted it, for a few days at least, because I had been coached by every fitness guide and every social more that running was a “real” exercise, regimented, routine, and perfect. Even though I hated every minute–no, wait, every SECOND–I kept trying, because I thought this was the only way to start getting “really” fit, to be considered “working out.”

You can imagine how long it took before I gave up on that particular exercise routine, and with good reason. It simply didn’t fit my life, my personality, my schedule–it just didn’t work for me. I believe that many people are making this same mistake when they choose their exercise routines.

Why Would We Force Ourselves to Do Un-fun Exercise?

There are many reasons for this, I believe. Maybe we’re all hearkening back to gym classes of yore, doing the exercises we were taught were “good” for us. Maybe we’re merely mimicking what friends and relatives do, or what society’s social guidelines tell us is “real” exercise. Heck, maybe we’re just doing what our buddies are doing because we don’t want to be alone while we exercise.

But when we do not put real thought into matching our exercise to our lifestyle, our personalities, even our likes and values…well, we end up giving up on it after a while, don’t we?

Choosing a Fun Exercise Does NOT Mean You’re Weak!

Exercise is not punishment. I’m going to repeat that–EXERCISE IS NOT PUNISHMENT. And yet, this is how many of us view it, because pain and humiliation is all we have experienced in association with exercise.

For instance, the sharp pain of shoulder bones, spine, and hip bones grinding against the glossed gym floor beneath you as you try to do crunches. Or the incredible pressure in your wrists, hands, and toes as you try to lift yourself up off the ground into a push-up; grunting and sweating as you try and try (and fail and fail) to lift your own body weight, feeling the silent judgments of everyone else in the room as you do so. (I recount merely my own experience with such grinding, tedious exercises, and yet I’m sure I’m not the only one with such a tale to tell.)

When this kind of exercise routine is touted as “real” exercise, with no “fun” alternatives for the layperson, is it any wonder most of us who need exercise the most have given up on it entirely? When exercise is associated with severe discomfort/pain, plus the feeling of “never being able to get it right,” who in their right minds would WANT to inflict this on themselves?

I’ll admit, exercise, especially for the person who is out of shape (like me), will involve SOME pain and some extra effort–but it should not leave you absolutely bedridden the next day. Maybe “real” athletes and fit people will think I lack willpower and am just whining, but I speak as one who is not training for the Olympics or trying to win a marathon. I just want to be able to walk down the stairs without pain in my joints, and walk up the stairs without being out of breath.

I think most ordinary people would agree with me on this score. It is not that we are weak or unworthy folk–it is that we are not as far along on the “fitness” continuum as others may be. And that is not a crime, to have to start at the beginning when it comes to fitness.

Choose an Exercise That You Can Enjoy and Actually Do

When I say “start at the beginning,” I mean both physically and mentally. We must start with exercise that trains the muscles gently at first, getting us used to exercising again; we must also start with exercise that we enjoy, that fits into our schedules and brings out the best in our personalities instead of the worst.

For instance, I never succeeded with a workout routine for very long until I joined the Zumba class, as I have mentioned in this blog before, back in April of this year and June of last year. Being as musical as I am, and enjoying Latin dance music and R&B music as I do, Zumba appealed to me from a mental and emotional standpoint. Not only that, I love to dance and like to learn about different dance moves; I usually pair simple physical moves with the music I’m listening to anyway.

So it was natural and logical that I should enjoy the Zumba class, because it appealed to a natural strength in me (music) as well as an interest (dancing). Though it was difficult at first, especially when I tried to do absolutely EVERYTHING that the very fit instructor was doing, I still had a little fun attempting the moves. That little bit of fun, plus the unexpected camaraderie I found with my Zumba classmates, brought me back the next week. And the next. And even the next.

I don’t think I’m unusual in continuing with an exercise that I enjoy, versus trying and failing to keep to an unnatural routine. But everyone is different: there are people who will enjoy a 5 a.m. run much more than they would enjoy a Zumba dance class, for instance. I may not understand why they would choose to get up so horribly early, or why they would choose to run pointlessly, but I can’t put my judgment on their choice of exercise; it’s what works for them, just as Zumba works for me.

Selecting Your Perfect Exercise Style

Think about your body’s natural state.

Are you a night owl or an early bird? Do you find yourself energized by exercise, or soothed towards sleep? Asking these kinds of questions about how your body normally is will help you figure outwhat time of day you should exercise.

For instance, I’m a severe night owl (if I’m up at 6 a.m., it’s probably because I haven’t been to bed yet), and exercise makes me all warm and sleepy. Thus, an early-morning exercise routine would not work for my body’s natural state (I’d be a very cranky zombie all day), but my Thursday evening Zumba class fits me just fine–I can wake up later in the day if I need to, and after Zumba I can come home, shower, and actually get to bed before midnight. 😛

Think about your favorite hobbies, especially anything involving physical movement.

What do you like to do with your free time? What are your interests? These can point the way to a general style of exercise you’ll enjoy best. A love of basketball or affinity for watching basketball games may just translate itself into a daily half-hour practice at the local basketball court with a few friends, for instance.

For me, my love of music and dance translated itself perfectly into Zumba; I get to hear about an hour of good dancey music, and I get to learn new moves, all while dancing in the same room with other people. It’s almost like rehearsing for a dance performance, the way I did when I was a little girl–there’s the same kind of social group formed by the class, and the same kind of rush when you finally learn how to do that stinkin’ turn just right. 😛

Think about what you realistically have time for.

What does your daily schedule look like? How about weekly, or monthly? Being realistic about what time you can carve out for exercise is important to fitting it in and making it part of your life. If you’re always running around doing errands from morning to evening all week and barely have any time to breathe from Monday morning to Friday evening, then trying to fit in exercise during the week is probably not going to work for you. But doing some exercise on Saturday and Sunday might be just the ticket, instead.

I wasn’t sure that the Thursday night Zumba class would work for me in the beginning; however, it fit into an “empty” night that would have otherwise been a night for me to lay around being bored at home. Though I’m involved in other church and community activities on other weeknights, Thursdays have stayed my Zumba days (thankfully!). This has kept me coming back to class, when perhaps otherwise I might have let it go after a month or two.

Think about your exercise personality.

Do you enjoy the serenity of a solid, unchanging routine, or do you get easily bored without something different to do every time you exercise? Do you prefer to focus on perfect form and pinpoint muscle toning, or do you prefer to do exercises that feel more like useful, everyday activities? Answering these questions will help you figure out what specific kind of exercise you’d enjoy doing.

For me, I hate doing pointless, repetitive exercises that seem to have no bearing on real life (I have the same problem with math, LOL). Zumba is neither repetitive nor pointless–I get to learn new moves every time I go, which keeps it fresh, and the dance moves can be translated to my free time (and music-listening time) very easily. 😀


Exercise must be fun if it’s going to be done. It may sound trite, and the rhyme may sound dumb, but it’s the first truth about any physical activity–it must be enjoyable. It also must fit into your life, blending with everything else you do and everything you value. After all, if your exercise routine isn’t fun, doesn’t mesh with your life, and feels pointless, it’s probably not going to be “your routine” for long!

The Difference Encouragement Makes

Can you believe it’s been over a year since I started Zumba? I sure can’t. I didn’t think I’d ever find an exercise program I’d go back to twice, let alone keep attending for thirteen months. And yet, I have. What an odyssey to get even this far! And how much I have changed, physically and emotionally!

Before: Fearful, Uncertain, and Doubting

When I started Zumba back in June 2011, I was uncertain and afraid. I worried I’d be judged by my classmates, feared that the instructor would be a drill sergeant, and was scared that I wouldn’t be physically capable of doing any of the exercises. But most of all, I worried that this would be yet another notch on the “failed-exercise-attempt” post.

After all, all my other attempts at doing exercise over the years had failed. Back in middle school, I was too busy being victimized and bullied about my weight to really understand/do exercise; in high school, I avoided gym class like the plague for that very reason. And by college, my knees and ankles had taken so much of a beating that exercise was painful and frightening. Even after college, when I knew I needed to get fit and wanted to try, all the types I tried were lonely and boring (as I have written about before in October of last year and January of this year).

Why The Fear and Doubt Receded

But surprisingly, this attempt succeeded almost from the beginning, and has continued to succeed. Why? I believe it’s because of all the positive encouragement I received.

For one thing, my fellow Zumba class members are all cool people, most of them just like me, trying to get healthier instead of trying to show off perfected moves. I don’t feel intimidated by anyone else, and I don’t feel like they’re judging me, either. Instead, I feel that I’m in a class of my peers, peers who offer compliments to each other and support when needed.

Secondly, the instructor from whom I began taking Zumba classes truly took time to teach the moves rather than just expecting us to follow along. I never felt utterly lost the way I used to feel in other exercise classes. And the best thing? She offered positive reinforcement and urged us all to just “keep our feet moving,” not to worry about doing the moves perfectly. Instead of demanding we follow exactly as she demonstrated, she encouraged us to do only what our bodies were capable of, so that we would not hurt ourselves.

For me, a lifelong self-destructive perfectionist, that was a blessed relief to let go of that worry. She helped me see that I COULD do the exercises, and never let me discourage myself out of coming back to class. “You may not do these moves exactly the way I do,” she said once, “but if you’re moving at all, you’re going to help yourself feel better over time.” She was right.

The Result of Encouragement: Positive Change

Because of the encouragement I found in both my classmates and my instructor, I now believe in myself a lot more, and I’m beginning to have fun, too. It is possible to have fun doing full-throttle, sweat-inducing exercise–I never believed that before. Slowly, exercise has gained positive associations in my mind: where before it was always associated with shame, pain, and lack of ability, now it is associated with camaraderie, fun new challenges, and the thrill of being able to do more and more.

I think the lack of proper encouragement holds many people back from exercise these days. Either they try to do it all by themselves and end up feeling lonely and bored, or they try to exercise in a place that does not offer social encouragement and support. As I told my Zumba instructor, “I had to change mentally before any change could take place physically”–and I believe that. I had to feel that exercise was a positive experience worth having before I could convince myself to stay with it. Encouragement filled that gap for me.

Some Encouragement for You

I hope, if you’re reading this article and are trying to get in shape, that you will look up positive, encouraging people who know a lot about fitness and health to help you on your own fitness odyssey. Having people who can guide you as you try to get healthy makes such a positive difference. I didn’t think it would, until I experienced it for myself.

But I also hope, if you’re reading this article and know someone who’s trying to get in shape, that you will reach out to them and become a buddy to them, helping in any way you can. Heck, even if you see someone else at the gym who’s struggling along, I hope you’ll reach out and be kind to them. Positive encouragement from you could mean the difference between them coming back or them leaving and never returning. You never know!

AquaZumba: A Different Sort of Exercise Challenge

Since I’ve been doing regular Zumba and holding up pretty well for a little over a year now, I’ve been wondering if my body could handle doing two exercise classes a week instead of just one. I wasn’t sure what other type of exercise I could add, however.

As it happened, my regular Zumba instructor mentioned about a month back that she was going to teach a water form of Zumba called AquaZumba, and she wanted to know what interest there would be in such a class. I raised my hand; about six years ago, my doctor suggested water aerobics to me as a way of building back strength in my damaged joints, but I hadn’t followed up on it. So, remembering my doctor’s old advice, I decided I would give it a shot. The happy result is the subject of today’s blog post.

The Experience

I showed up for class last Monday afternoon, in the outdoor pool area at my local YMCA (also where I take regular Zumba on Thursday nights). There ended up being about 20 people there for the class, and our instructor advised us to make sure we were standing in water at least chest-high so that we could get good resistance on our arms as well as the rest of us. The middle section of the pool, where the depth slowly increases, was accordingly filled out with class members arranged by height.

Our instructor demonstrated the various moves outside the water, so we could all see and know what to do. At first, I didn’t think it would be nearly as challenging as regular Zumba, but within the first couple of songs, I realized that the water resistance was certainly not negligible. Not that the resistance was hard to work through–it was just more resistance to movement than I expected. You don’t realize how much water will hold you still or keep you back from moving, but it will!

As we worked through each song, I realized that because of the water resistance, AquaZumba is necessarily a slower-tempo workout. You’re not doing as much high-intensity cardio (though you do get an elevated heart rate); instead, you’re doing more muscle toning. I could feel, as we did each set of the slower but more graceful moves through the water, that my arms and legs were getting a good workout, as well as my core muscles (which I didn’t expect at all). It wasn’t arduous, though–the water made the movements more fun since I wasn’t having to focus so hard on not falling over (LOL).

For a solid hour, the water seemed to boil with our movements as the 20 of us moved like a party of synchronized swimmers (except without the spangly costumes). (I don’t see how the instructor stood it, doing her moves on land (and in full sun) as she did!) I noticed that pretty much the whole class kept up with the exercises well, and by the end of the workout, we all seemed pleasantly tired, not flat-out exhausted.

I left feeling good about the whole experience. The instructor was encouraging and compassionate as always, and the class members were forgiving of each other as well as of themselves. Not to mention that the heaviness in my limbs was a sign that I’d had a much stronger workout (and yet a less joint-stressing workout) than I expected.

The Results

I was less sore and exhausted after AquaZumba than I usually am after regular Zumba, but I was still feeling the workout–at about midnight, I realized I’d worked my arms WAY more than I realized. Still, I wasn’t overtired, and felt energetic enough through the week to meet my regular Zumba class and my other obligations as well. I also noticed that my ankles and knees felt more supported during the workout, which meant lots less pain during and after the workout. I was worried that my completely flat feet on a slanted pool floor might cause me a mischief, but that didn’t seem to come into play at all.

Time will tell, however if my core muscles were as engaged as they felt during the workout, but I literally felt “smaller” around the middle when I left the pool that evening. Those slow twists and turns do more for the obliques and abs than I thought!

Wondering if You Should Try It?

In my opinion, if you enjoy swimming or enjoy just being in the water, AquaZumba could very well be a good fit for your exercise program. And, if you can do regular Zumba, you can definitely do AquaZumba. However, if you’ve never tried regular Zumba because you think it would be too fast or difficult, this might be more your speed.

Check online or around your local gyms (or even local parks) to see whether a class may be offered in your area. Who knows, you might find yourself becoming an AquaZumba swan by the end of the summer!

Chocolate After Workouts and Other Self-Bribes

Motivating myself to work out has been a challenge every week, even though I’ve managed to stick to it for longer than I thought. (Come mid-June, I will have been doing Zumba for a year!)

But Thursday afternoons before 6:30 are still a tug-of-war in my mind–laziness and pain fighting against the twin desires to be healthier and fitter. Worries that “tonight’s the night I’m going to overdo it and really hate myself tomorrow” share brain space with “but I can’t miss tonight, I don’t want to break my two-month streak of perfect attendance!”

Luckily, I’ve found a brain trick that works to motivate me…and it has less to do with the workout than what I earn afterwards.

My Workout Self-Bribe: Spa Night + CHOCOLATE 😀

For every Thursday night that I attend Zumba, I reward myself with a “spa night” afterwards–a long, relaxing shower to unwind my muscles and pamper myself. Deep hair conditioning, exfoliating and moisturizing mini-facial…anything and everything I can do to make myself feel pretty and relaxed, I do for myself after my workout. And after I get out of the shower? One piece of chocolate of my choosing. (Most recently, my choice has been Dove’s peanut butter + chocolate combination…epic NOM NOM NOM)

The most important part of this motivation? If I don’t go to Zumba, I don’t get any of the rewards–no long soothing shower, no pampering, no relaxing water massage, and no chocolate. (And I’ve been surprisingly good about not sneaking a piece or two out of the bag after unsuccessful Thursdays or any other day of the week–it’s strictly for rewarding myself after a good workout.) The luxury does not have to be included; if I don’t Zumba, I get a fairly utilitarian shower on Friday morning instead of a Thursday evening pampering session.

Why Does This Work?

Because nothing in this plan involves negativity and punishment. I’m not punishing myself for not going to Zumba–it’s just that if I go, I do something extra-special for myself. I don’t starve myself on Fridays if I choose to spend Thursday night in bed resting my ankle, nor do I force myself to go to another workout later in the week that I won’t enjoy as much. It’s just positive reinforcement…and it has worked for me, as overly simple as it seems. Now I look forward to the workout not only because of the rewards afterwards, but because the moves are becoming easier and I’m seeing real changes in my body.

Trying The Self-Bribe Trick for Yourself

If you’re trying to stay motivated to do something, whether it’s working out, learning a new skill, eating right, etc., you can try this “self-bribe” positive reinforcement for yourself. All it takes is these 3 simple steps:

  1. Pick something that you would normally have to do in order to complete your chosen activity.
    • For me, that was showering after my workout, ’cause it’s kinda necessary.
    • If you’re trying to eat healthy, it might be cooking more meals at home.
    • If you’re trying to learn a new skill, it might be spending more time on instructional websites.
  2. For that necessary activity, add a touch of luxury to it as a reward.
    • Do like I did and turn the post-workout shower into a pampering spa experience, for instance.
    • If you’re cooking healthy, learn how to make a favorite dessert or treat, and make it once a week for every week you manage to eat healthy.
    • For every hour you spend learning a new skill, reward yourself with a 15-minute visit to favorite websites.
  3. If you don’t end up doing the thing you’re trying to stay motivated on, simply don’t include the luxury. You’d be surprised how well this works. 😛

Exercise Has Been Divorced From Reality

Would I be completely in the wrong to say that exercise has been taken out of the context of our regular daily activity?

I don’t believe so, given the fact that most people’s exercise now takes place in gyms and home workouts rather than actual, useful activities. Exercise, far from being part of our chosen trade or part of our recreation, now is done in front of other, usually more fit people, at a gym or on a workout machine. It’s often regarded more as a status symbol than anything these days–if you have time to work out, you must be in a good job.

But what about exercise that MEANS something for your life, other than fitting into a smaller size or being healthier? Sure, those are worthy goals to have, but I would prefer to actually do something useful while exercising. Exercising just for its own sake is boring and lonely to me, and it feels useless; when in real life are we really going to lift weight in exactly the same pose for a certain number of times, or walk exactly a mile, or use just our abs to do anything besides laugh?

Modern “Exercise”: Movement without Context, without Purpose

In principle, this is the same problem I always had in math classes–being assigned 30 naked, context-less problems in a math book to “practice what we just learned” felt like a waste of time and effort. It always left me thinking, “I do all this problem-solving work, but it’s not really helping anybody. How about giving me 30 real-world problems that other people need solved right now? That way, I practice AND I help somebody out.”

Exercise, in my opinion, should be a fun activity that accomplishes a real-life goal outside of physical fitness. Yes, yes, I know, exercise for itself is great, but it bores me and makes me feel like I’m just wasting my time. I want it to multi-task.

Example of Purposeless Exercise: JUST Walking on a Track

Walking around and around in a pointless circle on a track for an hour? BORING. In fact, I’ve written a couple of times about exercise, including just how much I hate walking for no reason. Makes me want to tear my hair out. I’ve tried doing just walking as exercise several times, and I just can’t stay with it. Not only does every joint in my lower body hurt more with every step, but I’m wasting an hour just walking around when I could be getting stuff done at home, or running errands. It’s not “peaceful” or “relaxing,” as other people have told me it is for them–I find it maddening and painful.

Example of Purposeful Exercise: Walking as a Way to Get Stuff Done

Now, contrast that with activities that just involve walking: walking pets, running errands in town without using a car, or taking the kids on a nature hike. This is the kind of walking I can get behind–walking for a PURPOSE!

For instance, letting pets get out and about with you is a great way to bond with them, as well as to let them do their business outside (always good for the ol’ flooring). Parking your car and walking around in uptown saves gas, gets stuff done, AND gets you exercise. Getting the kids out of the house, away from computers, TVs, and video games, can be an important family bonding moment as well as family exercise. They can learn from you that exercise doesn’t have to be something regimented and divorced from their reality.

I Want This Kind of Exercise–the USEFUL Kind!

This is what I’m talking about–making exercise a seamless part of everyday life instead of a status symbol. Lifting weights 20-reps-at-a-time in the gym is pointless and means nothing for my everyday life; however, lifting junk down out of the attic and moving it out of my house is a weight-lifting exercise I can appreciate. I’ll be sore after doing both types of exercise, but only one type of exercise gets something done besides building up muscle.

Zumba, strangely, fulfills this “useful exercise” requirement I have in a unique way; it is based on dance moves, so I feel like I’m performing with a group of people rather than just “working out.” Not only that, being with the group of people and directly interfacing with the group leader helps me feel more accountable, like somebody actually gives a rat’s rear end that I’m doing this. It’s useful exercise because I love to perform and I love to socialize–it kills three birds with one stone, giving me new friends, a new “venue” to perform in, and a healthier body over time.

I know there are people out there who really enjoy the nitty-gritty training of exercise for its own sake. But I think if we’re ever going to be a healthier, fitter nation, we need to make exercise an integral part of life’s other activities rather than making it something we have to do outside of normal activities. Let’s make it not so lonely, boring, and horrible to try getting fit, and maybe more people will do it!

You Can Get Fat With Friends, But You Have to Get Healthy On Your Own

As a “fat girl” for the last 14 years of my life, I have struggled with my weight and my shape, trying all different types of lifestyle changes, eating plans, and even exercise programs. I have alternately hated my body and tried to love it, tried to use exercise equipment and then eschewed it, etc. I’ve tried walking alone on a track; I’ve tried doing various diets (even low-carb, for about 5 minutes); I’ve tried exercising with music on headphones. Nothing worked for a very long time–I got bored, I got out of the habit, and then it was back to living like I was, relatively sedentary because of my lower body’s arthritic injuries, and avoiding anything green and leafy like it’s got mold.

Does “Healthy Living” Always Have to Equal “Lonely Living?”

During these years of struggle, I’ve noticed something: “living healthy” is a lonely process, like I referenced in the title of this article. It’s very difficult to get people to eat healthier with you, or to exercise regularly with you, due to scheduling, different food needs and likes, and just plain being too busy or too disconnected. And since I’m such a social creature, liking to do things with other people than by myself, it makes it doubly hard to stick to any plan. Not only are the plans difficult to follow because they’re SO different from the way I live my life and they often cause me lots of physical pain, but I have to do everything alone. Doing things alone is a great way to unmotivate oneself.

Perhaps I sound like a crybaby. No matter; I’ve been called a crybaby many times during my life, and I’d say that my sensitivity makes me a much more impassioned writer and a better artist than it makes me a well-adjusted human being. It’s just that if I have to go through something as life-altering, painful, and tough as “getting healthy,” then I’d like a little support. After all, there are support groups for everything else in life.

“Anti-Health” Support Groups, Ahoy!

In fact, I’m comfortable making the assertion that we currently have unintended “anti-health support groups” in America and around the world. There are plenty of people to help you eat all the wrong things, but if you’re on a super-healthy diet, you eat alone. There are plenty of people to help you laze around and watch TV all day, but if you’re going to exercise, you have to do it by yourself. We all help each other sink farther and farther into unhealthy activities because those unhealthy activities feel so darned good and the healthy activities feel like punishment.

In light of this, why are fat people like me subjected to teasing, ridicule, and blame, when we ALL are to blame for being rather hedonistic in our choices of lifestyle? Somehow, it’s still completely “our fault” for being fat, even when the culture immediately around us rewards bad choices and punishes good choices.

When Good Health is Associated with Bad Emotions

I’m tired of being lonely during exercise, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Apart from my Zumba experience, which has been amazingly awesome despite not being able to do quite all the moves yet, my exercise repertoire in the past mostly consisted of boring workouts that somehow manage to leave me unbearably sore and bedridden the next day.

Walking, for instance, BORES ME TO TEARS. Just walking and walking around in a circle not doing anything else productive is not relaxing for me–it makes me anxious about the time I’m wasting doing this useless junk when I could be at home working on a project I’ve got coming up. Walking and other “10-reps-of-this, 20-reps-of-this” exercises drive me insane. There’s nothing to THINK about except how much pain I’m in, and how much pain I’m going to be in tomorrow, and how airless my lungs feel. There’s an incredible isolation that descends upon you when you’re in pain–no one else can feel what you’re feeling at this moment, and quite possibly, no one even cares how much it hurts. When exercise is associated with humiliation and pain, it’s no wonder people don’t want to do it.

I’m also tired of being lonely at the dinner table, and I know I ain’t the only one. When everyone else is indulging in wonderful treats of all types and you’re stuck with a “Rabbit’s Delight” salad, you begin to feel like the odd one out. If you’re the only person counting calories, watching carbs or fat, etc., you feel like you’re in “Food Time-Out.” Starving oneself while everyone else eats heartily, eating something that tastes absolutely disgusting just because it’s “healthier” than what you like, is not my idea of culinary fun. As a very picky eater, hating almost all vegetables and fruits because of the nasty pulpy/crunchy textures and brackish dirt/water tastes, it’s hard for me to find healthy things that I can eat, though even I draw the line at Taco Bell’s ground beef these days (it’s more grease than meat, or is it just me?). I try to choose the least of the food evils and eat smaller portions of whatever I get, but I still feel like I’m depriving myself–and I end up hungry 45 minutes later, without fail.

Do We Deserve “Body Punishment?” I Don’t THINK So!

When “getting healthy” is lonely, boring, and horrible, it doesn’t exactly help anybody join the program. And yet, it seems there’s an idea of “body punishment” for those who have to get healthy to live longer lives–somehow, it’s perceived that we “did this to ourselves,” so we “deserve” all the pain and hardship we go through to get healthy. Not everyone who is fat and/or unhealthy got that way by life choices; sometimes, as in my case, our genetics chose for us.

A Side Note about How My Genetics Chose for Me
As a young child, up to about age 10, I was actually fairly slim, and tall for my age. In fact, my grandmother once got mad at my parents after seeing a photo of me at age 8 on a recent beach trip–she saw the dark circles under my eyes (hereditary) and the slenderness of my whole body and thought that they weren’t feeding me enough. But I went from being that tall and almost-too-skinny 3rd grader to being a rounded, textbook endomorph model in 5th grade. I was 90 pounds and 5’3″ at the beginning of 5th grade, and by the end of 5th grade, I was 145 pounds and 5’5″. I had just turned 11 years old, and went from skinny girl to fat girl almost overnight, gaining butt, breasts, and hips, and a wonderful little muffin top belly which has helped me look pregnant ever since. It was like a switch flipped off, and my metabolism crashed, with absolutely no change in exercise level or food intake. My mother, my aunt, both female cousins, and my maternal grandmother all went through this same body change at onset of puberty as well, so I know it’s not just peculiar to me.

I wish all the skinny Minnies who run diet and exercise plans understood this, how my own body betrayed me and made me a target for all the school bullies, both male and female. Because of how I was treated, especially in middle-school gym classes, exercise became strongly associated with feelings of unpreparedness, humiliation, and sub-humanity. It has taken over a decade to even begin to break down those psychological associations of punishment and pain, and I’m fairly confident my experience is all too typical.

How Can We Start Helping One Another?

Yes, I will say if somebody’s just sitting in bed day after day stuffing themselves until they’re almost sick, they’re doing themselves a disservice. But even so, they deserve support too. Otherwise, there will be no motivation to leave their comfort zone, and they will sink further into their painful and insidiously dangerous lifestyle. While I’ve never turned to food as an emotional void-filler, I do know the hopeless feelings associated with diet and exercise, and it’s no place for any human being.

If you truly want to help someone become healthy again, you don’t treat them like dirt–you offer them support in the form of being an “exercise buddy,” a “going-out-to-eat buddy,” whatever kind of buddy you need to be in order to keep them accountable (and keep yourself accountable, too). Knowing that someone else actually gives a rat’s rear end about what you’re doing is a wonderful motivator; I’ve seen it work with me and with other people, too. When other people reach out and care, when others connect with you, want to know week by week how you’re coming along, you start thinking “maybe I’m worth being cared about.” That healthy attitude change is the first real step to becoming healthy in body again.

Zumba: Yes, It IS A Workout

After months of trying to get healthy on my own, I had just about had it with workout plans that read “Do 10 reps of this, 20 reps of this, walk 10 laps on this,” etc. I was bored, bored, BORED of typical workouts and typical workout routines.

So, when a friend of mine from the local Choral Society spoke well of the Zumba class she took on Thursday nights, I was intrigued, but also very wary. Wasn’t Zumba that thing from the infomercial, with all the Latin dance moves and such?

I researched as much as I could online, watching videos like the one above, getting more interested…but I still thought it surely couldn’t work as well as it purported to. I had done enough dance and musical theater in my childhood and teen years to know that dance could engage the entire body, but I still worried–if it was too easy, it wouldn’t do much for me, and if it was too hard, I risked re-injuring a lot of my lower body.

Finally, I put doubts to the side and came to watch a Thursday evening class…and by the middle of the class, I wanted to join in. It seemed like a LOT of fun, and the music was very bouncy and great to listen to. Quickly, I made plans to try the class out, and the next available Thursday evening (June 16th, 2011), I actually did try it.

Takeaways from My First Zumba Class

  • If you mess up, you are probably not the only one messing up–even the instructor missteps occasionally! Laugh and keep going.
  • The high-energy music wordlessly encourages you to keep going.
  • Zumba is definitely not too easy. The moves are challenging, the tempo is fairly quick, and you will definitely find muscles you forgot you had. LOL!
  • If you haven’t exercised in a long time and still try to do everything just like the instructor does, you are going to hurt yourself. 😛
  • You can always modify the moves to suit your level of fitness.
  • It’s not a competition–do what you can and try to get a little better every time.

My Results During and After Class

After the first 20 minutes of class, I was already sweating like a hog in that air-conditioned room, and by the end of the hour-long workout, I felt accomplished, if not exhilarated. (I still don’t think my body releases endorphins when I exercise…I think it releases the opposite, ’cause I usually feel like gum scraped off somebody’s shoe after I work out.)

Now, I did have to take a couple of short rests in addition to the rests between songs, because my heart rate felt like it was starting to speed out of control. However, once I started modifying the moves and not trying to do absolutely everything the instructor was doing, I felt my heart rate kick into a higher (but much more controllable) level. For sure, I didn’t feel like I was going to keel over again.

I have never felt my heart get into that comfortable-higher gear before–usually it goes straight from “Resting” level to “LOL I’M COMING THROUGH YOUR RIBS”, with painful gasping for air included. Instead, the new heart rate was definitely faster than normal, but not scary-fast. My exertional asthma, which had triggered twice within the first 20 minutes, had all but vanished by the end of the hour as well. This was AMAZING! Not to mention that modifying the moves to exclude jumping, leg twists, and deep knee bends protected my knees from further damage and left me less sore the next day.


The best thing about Zumba is that you aren’t required to do every single move perfectly. It’s a “work-at-your-own-pace” type of exercise, with camaraderie and laughter included–which means it’s approachable for beginners and yet it can be high-intensity for people who are already fit. Doing Zumba doesn’t mean you’ll drop 100 pounds in a week or get ripped abs in 2 months, but you will see greater stamina, flexibility, and some toning. For certain, I’ve already seen benefits to my heart health and overall fitness capability!

Exercise: Not My Idea of Fun

I’m currently 5’8″ and nearly 300 pounds. Yep, I said it. And traditional exercise, which has been touted as THE way for me to achieve fitness, is not fun for me, for a variety of reasons:

My Beefs with Traditional Exercise

  • Boring – nothing to think about but how much pain I’m in, how much this stinks, how much I’d rather be doing ANYTHING else (such as getting a root canal)
  • Isolating – none of my friends do any kind of exercise that I can get into, and none of them do what I’m interested in
  • Painful – everything hurts/gets sore very easily, and I hate the breathless, about-to-die feeling I get

A Little History: I USED to be a Thin, Active Little Girl

To understand how and why I’ve ended up this way, you have to know some of my background. I’ve been a fat girl longer than I was a skinny girl, but I do remember the days of being bone-thin. I was tall and fairly lean through most of elementary school–I played basketball during the school year, swam a good bit during the summers, and played both outside and inside. I also didn’t sit down to dinner long enough to really eat much, though I never went hungry, either. (As an extremely selective eater from early childhood, I chose foods based on texture almost more than taste, and ended up eating from a very limited palate which has persisted to this day.)

What Changed: Emotional Associations with Exercise, Onset of Puberty, and Injuries

Starting in fourth grade (age 10), however, my level of activity began to change, albeit slowly. I was cut from my basketball team because I had lost much of my speed to a foot injury and hadn’t really improved my playing skills. But to be honest, I had started losing interest in playing sports–I knew I wasn’t very good at physical activity, and I was beginning to be picked on for it. I just never was fast enough or quick-reacting enough, though I could pull off a surprise basket on occasion. As a result, I started doing more indoor, sedentary activities with my newly freed time.

By fifth grade, I had the basics of my adult hourglass figure in place. But fifth grade was also the year I entered weighing about 90 pounds and left weighing 145 pounds, with little to no change in my diet and regular P.E. exercise just as I had had for the previous 5 years of elementary school. This same body change has happened to all the women in my extended family–rapid weight gain and a radical body shape change around puberty, much more significant than other girls’ body changes. (I have wondered, in the years since, whether some form of endocrine imbalance or some form of hypothyroidism might be to blame, but most doctors seem not to know what we’re talking about, despite having a body of anecdotal evidence covering several lives and at least four decades.)

With womanhood barely a year away from me at age 11, puberty had thus backhanded me with an entirely new body–one I quickly learned to hate, just about as quickly as the other kids learned to tease me about it. My “muffin top” and “rolls” earned me so many jeers and so much physical abuse that I eventually quit trying to do much in P.E. at all. (Wouldn’t you have, if every time you so much a dribbled a ball some idiot would run over to you, grab the ball out of your hands, and smack it against your stomach hollering “FATTY FATTY FATTY! HAHAHA!”) Exercise, as a result, became less associated with fun and freedom, and more associated with pain, humiliation, and anxiety.

I gained about 10 pounds a year after puberty’s horrible 50-pound prank, and by college I battled to stay around 230-240 pounds. Several incidents, however, led to even walking being painful; going to class in the ice and snow led to repeatedly injured ankles and knees, which I could not get treatment for without having to WALK to the campus infirmary. (Explain that one to me!) Having always had weak ankles and flat feet (thanks to heredity), the injuries did not heal properly, which has left me with constant pain while walking. I even have a handicapped sticker, one which I am grateful for but wish fervently that I did not have to use as often as I do.

Would I Like to Exercise? Yes! Does Any Exercise Interest Me? NO!

The thing that annoys me the most about traditional exercise is the heavy emphasis on pointless repetition of mind-numbing activities. I know, I know, we’re supposed to be “training muscles” and whatnot, but it is as maddening to me as doing 30 identical math problems for homework. It’s a huge attack of “same stuff different day”–there’s nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing challenging mentally.

And, if my brain is not kept busy, then its only remaining focus is the condition of my body–you know, the straining muscles, the joints in pain, the sweat in my eyes. If exercise is repetitive (and most of the traditional programs out there are), then I end up tense, anxious, and eventually angry that I’m wasting my time doing this stuff and I’m going to waste even more time trying to recover later. (Keep in mind, I have a lot of injuries, so my body normally takes a longer time to recover from exercise anyway.)

How to Solve This?

An ideal exercise routine for me would be:

  • Fun – keeps my mind as well as my body busy
  • Social – involves friends and family as part of a get-together
  • Less painful – I know exercise is going to hurt, but it doesn’t have to hurt this much!

Let it be known that just walking on a track like a rodent in a wheel doesn’t cut it for me, nor for most like me, I’d imagine. I and other people in my same condition want more out of exercise than just doing 10 reps of this and 10 reps of that for an hour or so. Doesn’t that make sense?