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Getting Addicted to Exercise: You Can Do It!

You know that friend who is perpetually thin and jogs every day and talks about her runner’s high?  Yeah, don’t you hate her?

Okay, well, I’m your fat friend who has has started a walking program and now talks about endorphins and secretly obsesses about when I can get my next four-mile walk in and I don’t want you to hate me… if you are in need of exercising too, I want you to join me.  Here’s why — I had a million reasons why I couldn’t start a walking program, but all I needed were a few reasons why I COULD, and the main one was because people believed in me.  And I believe in YOU.

I felt horribly, horribly out of shape and consequently my self-esteem was very low.  I felt certain that if I were given a stress test by the doctor, I would fail embarrassingly.  With my recent diagnosis of diabetes, I knew that I had to incorporate exercise back into my life and walking has always been my exercise of choice.  But as tried to picture myself launching a new walking program, all I saw were roadblocks:  how to do it with small kids in tow, my lack of energy, my lack of confidence, my chronic trick knee.  I could only see failure on the horizon.

But life has an amazing way of conspiring to bring all the right elements together.  A doctor who looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and a giant grin while saying, “I know you can bring it, girl!  You can start exercising tomorrow, no problem!”  An IM completely out of the blue from an old high school friend who said, “Not only were you pretty then, you still are today.”  A reminder from a colleague that despite going onto the “mommy track” for a few years, I have managed to cultivate the skills employers most desire in my field today and that I can walk back into the marketplace easily whenever I chose to return to full-time work.  And yes, the sudden realization that my high school reunion will be next year.  Suddenly I had a target date (reunion!), a little bit of fuel for the ego fire, and that’s all I needed to put a plan into action.  Because I’m a Type A, Aries, goal-driven kind of a gal.  Give me a purpose and a date and I’ll go out and smash that goal in a way you’ve never seen.  I need to be healthy, in career-resuming fighting form, and reunion-ready in a year.  And yes, I want to be back in my head-turning shape!

I started my program simply by walking to pick up my son from school — half a mile away.  Walking with small children is challenging and frustrating.  When you WANT them to be slow, they zoom all over the place.  When you want them to be FAST, they drag their feet and complain and act as if they have no clue how to put one foot in front of the other.  So I made a game out of sending them running ahead from mailbox to mailbox — far enough ahead that I could keep a steady pace but close enough that I could keep them from being hit by cars or kidnapped.  Now that school is out and extra-curricular activities are fewer and further between, I try to take advantage of walking while they are at vacation bible school, in the evenings while JavaDad is at home to watch them, and sometimes I am even walking very, very late at night (safely) in well-lit areas while the family is snoozing.

At first those one-mile round trip walks were all I could muster and they were far, far slower than my old pace of 15-minute miles walks.  Which I found quite frustrating.  I would get mad at myself for how out of shape I had allowed myself to become.  But I found two things that helped me out.  First, building myself an iTunes workout playlist — I find that I respond very well to music — it sets both a pace and a mood for me and the familiarity of listening to the same songs for each walk help me maintain an even tempo.  And second, a handy app called Nike+GPS  that runs on my iPhone.  Although I had also bought the Nike+iPod sensor, I actually prefer this far less expensive app.  Nike+GPS requires no equipment other than your phone and ear buds.  Download the app, program in some information and walk (or run) — it’s that simple.  You can even use it on a treadmill, though you must carry or wear it (don’t set it down on your treadmill).  Here’s a pretty decent review of the two different apps.

Nike+GPS tracks where you walk, your pace, distance, allows you to play music, set goals, and — here’s the most important part to me — share the fact that you are “running” (even though I am walking) publicly on Facebook, Twitter and the Nike Running web site.  On Facebook, people can then “Like” or comment while you are exercising and you will hear rock-star style applause and see their comments on your phone.  To me, yes, a completely shameless extrovert, this real-time encouragement motivates me to keep walking, sometimes even faster.  I have been stunned at how involved my friends have become in my exercise.  The amount of encouragement I have received has been overwhelming!  When you complete your “run” (the app assumes you run and doesn’t allow you to change the postings to say “walk”), it publishes the results on Facebook, so your friends can see your time and distance.  You can, of course, choose not to publish any of this, but to me, this is part of the attraction of this app — it makes me accountable and gives me the encouragement and feedback I need.

In a month’s time I have gone from struggling with one mile to craving my four-mile walks and watching my average per mile time decrease by three minutes.  It’s still not at my best average, but it is improving.  Walking, for me, has become not something I dread and force myself into, but something I enjoy and look forward to.  My anticipation builds as I change from my mommy outfit du jour and into my workout outfit, lace up my running shoes, grab my iPhone and ear buds, fill up my BPA-free plastic water bottle and head toward the door.  I take a few minutes to touch up my make-up, and if walking by day, grab my sunglasses; if walking at night, grab my flashlight.

I step out the door and fire up my Nike+GPS, sometimes I’m almost immediately rewarded by a roar of applause from a friend on Facebook “liking” the notification that I’m starting a walk.  I close my eyes for the first few steps as I listen to the orchestral strains of Coldplay’s Viva la Vidafill my ears… 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4 …I let my feet feel the beats and take over as I feel the breeze that always seems to swirl in our cul de sac collect just under my ponytail.  Swish.  Swish. Swish, swish, swishswishswishswish.  Even my hair picks up the beat.  The water bottle swings on one side and I hold my iPhone on the other. 

Though my casual walking style is to stretch with long legs forward, I’ve learned that the best and fastest exercise walking style is quick, short strides.  Thanks to years of ballet, if I don’t focus, I can walk a bit duck-footed, so I try to walk toes straight forward and to compensate for my trick knee, I sometimes have to bend a little more on the right leg, so the music helps me block everything else and just focus on the walk.  I choose songs very intentionally for their driving beats, some very fast and a few slower ones in the middle to give me a break.  I’m the crazy lady who will sometimes sing the lyrics out loud and emote with hands in the air — whatever, I consider it a little cardio boost!  This time is not about anyone but myself.  For one hour, I am utterly selfish and not self-conscious.  This is freedom.

I make my rounds of the neighborhood, noting that someone on our street orders pizza every single day as I always pass a pizza delivery car.  Getting to know every dog behind a fence.  Noting every utility that has a crew in the neighborhood.  At night I now know where the teens hang out.  Who runs sprinklers when, sometimes I avoid them, sometimes I run through them, at times coming out looking like I’ve been in a wet t-shirt contest, but if I do, few are around to give me a raised eyebrow.  I enjoy the wildlife and love the fireflies who light my evening walks.  During the day and dusk, I give a nod and a smile to the joggers, bikers, walkers and dog walkers.  I no longer feel self-conscious as I pound the pavement, wondering who is judging me and my imperfect figure as I sweat it out in public.  And invariably, whether I’m out at 8am, 8pm or even at midnight, somewhere, someone on cyberspace is clicking a “Like” or a comment and giving me a cheer at the exact moment when I’m thinking of cutting it short and heading home.  Spurring me on.  Making me want to go that extra mile — literally.

The transformation inside me has been faster and more dramatic than the transformation on the outside.  I feel more alive, more confident, more relaxed, happier.  Though I keep the same music, I try new paths all the time — a personal trainer once told me changing things up allows the brain to build new neural pathways — and I remember the first time I encountered a hill that was so tall and steep the crest towered above my head.  I stopped for a second, stared at it and wondered if I should attempt it, given my knee.  But I did.  And now I am not afraid of that or any other incline.  I can do it.  I can do anything.  I’m still fat.  I’m still too slow for my perfectionist’s standards.  But I know I’m capable of anything I set my mind to.  Don’t get me wrong — the fact that some v-neck t-shirts I wore just a month ago are falling off me flashdance-style and that my belts now have to be replaced is AWESOME!  But not being afraid of a hill is even better!

The first pair of shoes I bought hastily gave me blisters.  I had to acknowledge that I needed to invest in the right pair of shoes (thank you, VA Runners in Clifton!)  For the first time ever, I’m not just using any old pair of socks, but runner’s socks, made of synthetic materials — after 29 comments (!) on a thread on my Facebook page with advice from friends.  This is how much people care about helping me on my journey.  And this is why I want to help you.  If you need that voice to speak louder than a million reasons telling you not to get off that couch, let it be mine.  Let me tell you, you can do it.  Start with the pair of shoes you have, if you need to.  Start with a walk around the block.  Don’t worry about the skinny friend with the runner’s high.  You can do this.  And if you need me to keep you honest, post here or post on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/caffeineandaprayer.  Share your favorite workout playlist songs.  Do it for your health, do it for an upcoming reunion, do it to find your inner sexy, do it for one reason or twenty.  But if you know you need to get off that couch and get out there, and you’ve not known where to find the inner resolve to do it, find it here.  And keep coming back here until the endorphin high compels you to keep going out there.

Because YOU CAN!

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Disclaimer:  Always check with your physician before embarking upon a new exercise routine.

My Summer of Rediscovery

The words weren’t entirely unexpected, and yet they still punched me in the gut.

“You, my dear, have diabetes.”

I looked at my endocrinologist somewhat blankly.  I knew this was coming, and yet, the words fell down around me like individual blocks of cement. I. Have. Diabetes.  I. Have. Diabetes. Ihavediabetes. Diabetes.  Dammit.

The family history is there.  The individual risk factors are there.  The pre-diabetic symptoms had made their unwelcome appearance over a year ago.  The horrible “buzzy feelings” I get with high sugar levels.  The pins and needles numbness in my limbs.  The blurry eyes.  And yet, I realized, the shock still comes.  For friends who don’t understand the shock, I explain it like this — even when you are trying to have a baby, even when you know how to conceive a baby and are actively trying, when that pregnancy test comes back positive, you still have that moment of shock — that moment of, “Oh my, what have we done?”  Except you wanted to get pregnant and I never wanted diabetes.

I cope best with information and a plan.  I won’t bore you with the details of the multiple appointments and frustrations, but suffice it to say, that putting together information and a plan wasn’t as easy as I had hoped.  I wanted to walk away with a precise way to deal with things and I didn’t get it.  Coping with diabetes was to become — and still is — a journey.  I’m in the early stages of Type II Diabetes and am controlling it through diet, oral medication (Metformin) and exercise.   I monitor my blood glucose levels with a meter regularly.  I started out feeling absolutely paralyzed about making food choices and was miserably hungry while adjusting to my new lifestyle — an effect of the insulin resistance on me was constant hunger.  Now that things are under control, I find myself eating significantly smaller portions easily.

I have had intentions of re-launching my walking exercise regime over the years and always had one issue or another crop up, but this time I knew just how critical it was for my health.  Even more so, I needed it as an outlet.  Life suddenly felt very out of control, and I needed to feel like there was something in my control.

Because of the timing, the severity, and the physical impact, my diabetes also became the launching pad of what I like to call my Summer of Rediscovery or what my friend Julie calls my “midlife crisis.”  I’m not much of one for navel-gazing, but both are correct.

I’ve turned 41.  I’ve just completed 10 years of service in a major volunteer organization, several of which were in key leadership positions, the last of which was as the president.  For the first time in a decade, though I’m still a member, I’m not even on a committee — I’ve gone from overbooked most nights to home almost every night.  My diagnosis came literally days before I ended my term as president.  My youngest child graduated from preschool a week later and will head off to public school in the Fall– the writing is on the wall, my days as a stay-at-home mother will be coming to an end in a year or so.  My husband has patiently stood by as I took what little energy was left after being with kids all day and threw it into part-time work, volunteer commitments, and blogging over the past few years — and I realize there was little to none left for him when all was said and done.  I feel like I woke up on a Monday and suddenly didn’t know who I was anymore.

Summer arrived and a blank chapter lies before me and I’m furiously writing it without knowing exactly where it ends.  So I walk.  And I think.  And I pound the pavement with my Nike-shod feet as fast as I can.  Listening to the kind of music I’ve denied myself for years because I’ve been so focused on making sure that the kids heard classical music as babies, and “appropriate” music or music in foreign languages as toddlers and preschoolers.  In the car, even alone, I was always catching up on news or talking on the phone.  The simple act of listening to music that doesn’t involve farm animal noises or something the kids had to learn for choir felt so liberating, it almost feels sinful.  Like I am cheating on my entire family.  My apologies to my neighbors when I occassionally burst out in (horrible) singing while walking with headphones on!  I come home, bursting with ideas of things I want to do, to try, to write.  Some are completely ridiculous (hair tinsel) and some are less so, but exceedingly ambitious (wanting to find out how to apply to manage the Nike + running web site).

It’s been a month.  My eating habits have changed — I eat far more broccoli slaw, far fewer sweets and far less of everything.  I’ve lost about 10 pounds (I say “about” as we had to replace our scale when it said we each weighed 0 pounds — so I have to start with a new baseline.)  I’m slowly becoming an exercise-induced endorphin junkie.  I’m finally cashing in all the iTunes gift certifcates I’ve been given over the past couple of years.  And I’m rediscovering who I am — more than just “Mommy.”  Different schedule, different diet, different routine.  Trying to unearth the woman who is buried inside under the layers of mommy neglect — the woman, the writer, the wife, the person.