Exercising feels like an essential part of my life for both my physical and mental health. When I workout consistently I have more energy, feel healthier, have a positive body image, and see the world more optimistically. Even during the most demanding years of having babies I prioritized making time for some kind of exercise (even if it was something easy just once per week), knowing that the benefits far outweigh the challenges of making it happen.
My exercise phases have included: running with my dad starting in 6th grade; running track and playing basketball in middle school; going to a women-only gym with my mom called Premier Lady Fitness (the name!); years of rowing in high school and in college for Texas Crew (early morning practice six days a week!); swimming laps during graduate school in the amazing 50 meter practice pool at the Yale gym; training for and running a couple half marathons and sprint triathlons; spin class; Orange Theory (my current love); and most recently High Fitness. When I studied abroad in Paris for a semester in college I would run a few laps at Luxembourg Gardens once a week or so. I got curious looks from people, giving me the impression that morning joggers, or perhaps just women in running shorts, were not a common sight for most Parisians.
I realized recently that health and fitness are really important parts of my life but I don't talk about them a lot here. I'd love to share an overview of what health and fitness looks like in my life right now if you'd like to see...
My current exercise routine
When I was cleared to exercise after giving birth to Cedric in February of 2015 I joined a nearby Orange Theory Fitness. Orange Theory is a high intensity workout format at designated gyms consisting of treadmill running (or walking), rowing machines, and weight lifting. I love the group setting and the accountability without competition. I love that all I have to do is show up and someone else takes care of leading me through a great workout while playing good music (usually...classic rock – no thank you!). Currently I pay for 8 classes/month and go twice per week: Wednesday mornings at 5 a.m. for a 60 minute class and on Saturday mornings at 5:30 a.m. for a 90 minute class. The Saturday 90 minute class was a challenge I gave myself in January of this year to push my fitness. A bonus of doing the 90 minute class is that is makes the 60 minute class go by much faster!
A recent addition to my fitness routine is High Fitness, a high intensity dance fitness class, on Monday nights. I don't think I would have ever tried this on my own but a neighbor invited me to try it. Neither of us knew it was dancing until the class started and everyone was busting moves all around us! The class is challenging but fun and each time I catch on a little bit more.
Lately I'm feeling really fit and that I might be ready for another challenge so I'm considering adding another workout to my week. I think the most convenient thing would be adding another Orange Theory workout to my week on Friday mornings at 5 a.m. but I haven't decided yet.
Finding a routine that works
In creating an exercise routine, my goal is to lower as many barriers as possible. Then I'm much more likely to stick with it. Convenience, both in time and location, is key and the workout has to be as enjoyable as possible. Orange Theory hits all of these marks for me. A 5 a.m. exercise class might not sound convenient to many people but to me that hour isn't taking time away from being home with my family or working. I'm an early bird so I don't even really consider any sleep lost. I don't plan evening activities the night before and I set out everything I need to make it easy on myself at 4:30 a.m.
I've found that my motivation is higher at the beginning of the day and decreases as the day goes on. I'd much rather get my workout over with and start my day with endorphins and a sense of accomplishment. Because I prefer to workout early I was skeptical about the 8 p.m. start time of High Fitness. But so far it's going well! The later start time means I don't have to skip dinner or bedtime with the family (although I just eat something small like a bowl of cereal) plus it's so high energy that any fatigue I'm feeling from the day is gone quickly. The challenge is calming down after class so that I can go to sleep and don't stay up too late.
A big motivation for me to exercise is general good health. I love to feel healthy and fit. That feeling comes when I workout consistently and eat a diet of healthy, whole foods. I'll turn 35 in December and my hope is that I am still exercising consistently at 85 – and beyond! I think about my fitness habits now like a deposit of good health savings for my older self.
Even though general good health is motivating for me I'd like some more specific goals but don't have any right now. I don't find myself drawn to signing up for running races, although those do make great goals and benchmarks. I really just like to workout at my usual time and then have it over with, how unexciting is that? Ha!
Over the past year or so I've had a general goal of getting stronger and I've been working to pick up heavier weights and run faster on the treadmill at Orange Theory. It's a little hard to track progress like that at Orange Theory since the workouts change so much. But generally I feel stronger than I was last year. I'm also happy with my weight where it is so Chris suggested I could look at body composition like percentage body fat and muscle. I'd like to think about that, what my goals might be, and what interests me. Basically I really like having goals and want some fitness ones but I don't feel really drawn to anything.
Nutrition to support health and fitness
One big improvement I think I've made to my fitness is smart protein consumption. Living with a nutrition professor has many perks and I love to pepper Chris with questions like, "How much protein should I be eating?", "What's the deal with the Whole30/paleo/keto diet?", and "What's the best thing to eat after a workout?"
An important lesson I've learned from Chris is that eating a high protein* meal soon after a workout helps your body recover and build muscle. So after Orange Theory I come home and make a protein shake with protein powder (unflavored whey protein purchased in bulk at Sprouts), a frozen banana, frozen blueberries, frozen chopped spinach, peanut butter, and almond milk. It's so good! And has 24 grams of protein. I wish I had been better informed about nutrition and smart protein consumption during my rowing days.
As for the rest of my diet my general food rules are:
+ Vegetarian (more specifically lacto-ovo-pescatarian meaning we eat dairy, eggs, and fish)
+ Choose foods that are good sources of fiber and protein with minimal sugar (especially added sugars)
+ Eat lots of whole grains, vegetables, and fruit
I love an indulgent meal of homemade pizza or a decadent dessert (brownies and ice cream, please) and don't have guilt when I eat them. Honestly I think some of my motivation for eating such a healthy diet is so that I can enjoy the richer foods I love on occasion without derailing my overall good health and habits.
That hopefully gives a good overview of my health and fitness right now as I head into 35. I'd love to know what health and fitness habits you have and what motivates you!
*Everyone is talking about protein these days! A person's recommended daily protein consumption is based on factors like weight, activity level, and age. This article gives a good overview of protein needs and considerations and how to calculate how much protein you should eat.