I Am Not Hard Core

Last night I got out of the house, by myself, for some "Me-Time."

I have always envied women and mothers who see Me-Time as smart, not selfish. They grasp the concept of "putting your own oxygen mask on first"—taking time to renew and regenerate—before doing-for and helping others.

So, it was a big step for me to kiss the boys goodbye and head out the door to practice some self-care—to take some Me-Time.

I drove across town to hear Dr. Michelle Segar speak on the topic of smart self-care. Dr. Segar is the Associate Director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls and a researcher at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. She has branded herself "The Exercise Motivation and Behavior Architect"™ and has made it her mission to help America build behaviors to last a lifetime.

Overcoming the Vicious Cycle of Feeling Like a Failure

Dr. Segar talked a lot about exercise, and in particular, what motivates (or doesn't) women to exercise. For a while now I have struggled with HOW to exercise at this stage in life. I am 42, and my body is telling me that my hard core days are over, that it's time to settle into a mode of exercise that I really enjoy and enjoy enough to do for the rest of my life. For me, days of joining a gym, then quitting, then joining, then quitting are over. It has been a vicious cycle that has left me with nothing but feelings of failure and guilt. And THAT is not smart self-care. I would like to share some of the tidbits of encouragement I received from Dr. Segar last night. I hope they encourage you, too.

1. How do you think you are supposed to exercise? The media suggests that we should work out in a gym, with machines, sweat profusely, do hard-to-do exercises, and have rock-hard abs! Well, folks, if you don't like doing it, you're not going to stick with it. It's okay to rethink how YOU like and want to exercise.

2. Exercise throughout the day. Give yourself permission to accumulate exercise throughout the day. Park at the far end of the parking lot, play outside with your kids, take a walk in a field of daisies!, walk over to talk to a colleague instead of sending an email. Myth: Anything other than exercising in 30+ minute blocks of time is a waste. Truth: Every bit of movement adds up. GIFT yourself opportunities to move.

3. Ask yourself WHY you should exercise. Women who say they exercise "to lose weight" or "for health benefits" are less likely to remain motivated than those who exercise to "manage stress" or "for quality of life and mental health." Could the secret to developing a life-long exercise habit simply be in rethinking the "why"? Dr. Segar suggests using exercise to celebrate yourself, improve your mood, get more energy, reduce your stress, be a better parent, enjoy your work more, take better care of yourself, and live according to your core values. And here’s the kicker: when you move and experience these things, you create a domino effect on the rest of your day and life.

4. Myth: If you don't do it hard core, it's not worth it. There's been a little voice inside my head trying to convince me that I need to go down and join that Cross-Fit gym, throw some tires around and squat an insane amount of weight—to go hard core, to workout until I am completely exhausted, and "feeling the pain." All the other moms I know are!! Thankfully, according to Dr. Segar, research is showing that vigorous levels of exercise in middle-aged (yep, that's me!) and older women can actually lower a woman's mood rather than elevate it. Men on the other hand may benefit from more intense exercise. The key? Movement!

5. Walk. If walking is the only thing you find enjoyable, stick to walking. If swimming is your thing, swim! Just add movement to your day. There is a growing body of research showing that all physical movement counts, even lower level activities like gardening and walking. Dr. Segar says; "It is important that we give ourselves permission to move in ways that both feel good and work for us—this is a key ingredient to staying motivated. And we can enjoy life more when we live it on our terms not those prescribed by others."

6. Work on one behavior at at time. When we come to the place that we've convinced our self that changes need to be made (weight lost, stress managed, cholesterol reduced), we can become over zealous and attack it with vengeance. Unfortunately, the zeal and motivation can quickly fade. We've put so much on our plate and, in time, become overwhelmed. Work on your diet for six months, then start exercise or vice versa. Just don't bite off more than you can chew.

A Positive Outlook

I walked away from the evening with Dr. Segar with a positive outlook on exercise—and life. I feel like she gave me permission to exercise how I want, when I want, and at an intensity that my body will benefit from but still enjoy! And with an outlook like that, I feel regular exercise is a do-able. I can walk, I can throw in a few lunges and maybe a little jogging—but that awful pressure to perform is gone. The notion that the end result of exercise should be that air-brushed, perfectly toned model on the cover of SHAPE magazine is GONE! I am not hard core, I don't have to be hard core, and admitting and coming to terms with that feels so good!

For more from Dr. Michelle Segar, check out her website and these encouraging blog posts: 
Debunking the Myths of Exercise 
Everybody Everday