Fat Lady on a Bike: My Journey to Peace and Fitness

Join me and my wonderful Electra Townie bike on my continuing journey to inner peace and both inner and outer fitness.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Instant Gratification, Long-Term Joy

It's Friday today, almost the end of my first week here at Green Mountain, and I am reminded of something I figured out a long time ago.  If you want instant gratification, a constant sense of progress and achievement, there is no better endeavor than strength training.

Most people with weight management issues focus exclusively on the scale, which is a recipe (pardon the food reference) for disaster.  We have absolutely no control over how our body metabolizes what we feed it, or the schedule by which it eliminates waste products and stores or utilizes fat.  We do have control of our actions.  So, right off the bat (pardon the exercise reference), physical activity represents a much better arena in which to measure progress than what we eat.  And while aerobic activities can also provide a steady sense of accomplishment, there is nothing like feeling your muscles get stronger and more flexible by the day, doing an addition repetition or going up in weight, or simply feeling better able to do those reps without huffing and puffing and turning purple.

For the first three years after my first visit to Green Mountain, I embraced strength training almost religiously, clinging to it when everything else was falling apart.  There were good reasons for this.  For one thing, I had learned that strength training is just about the only way a short, middle-aged female can increase her metabolic rate.  For another, I can usually manage strength training even when my asthma and/or orthopedic issues make cardiovascular effort too difficult or painful.  So I did my alternating upper- and lower-body conditioning routines every morning almost without fail, despite various kinds of tendonitis and a medication adjustment that left me with 8 weeks of intense fatigue until my body got used to it. 

Sometimes it would take me all day to complete the lower body routine, as I could manage only about one exercise per hour and would lie on the floor staring upside down out the window at the palm tree next door (this was in Hawaii) until I could muster up the will and the energy to go on to the next muscle group.  It would take me several hours, but I would do it.  I felt stronger, I was fitting better into clothes, and I felt really good about myself.

Then I suddenly found myself unable to bridge whatever the hurdles were, and I began dreading strength training with an intense, consuming dread that left me paralyzed.  Every morning I would dress in my fetching exercise attire and mope around the house, feeling as though I couldn't do anything else until I completed my strength training for the day, yet not being able to bring myself to do it.  This meant, of course, that I never got anything at all done, which increased my stress level and flooded my brain with negative self-talk, so that the next day I dreaded the strength training even more.  And on and on and on.

Since my major illness last fall, I have had no problem getting to be more active; I rely on my joy in bicycling to motivate me to ride as often as I can.  But I've been waiting, in vain, for similar intrinsic motivation to strike me regarding the strength training piece.  On the other hand, what led me to sign up for these two weeks at Green Mountain was feeling so weakened at my core and yearning for the feeling that exercising my muscles gives me.

I am happy to report that after 5 days, I feel like a different person.  I still find the exercises, especially lower body, hard and occasional uncomfortable, but I'm starting to feel a kind of delight in doing them, as they allow me to feel my body getting stronger by the day.  By the time I leave next Saturday, this ember of pleasure will, I hope, have been fanned into a flame of enthusiasm so that I can keep things up after I get home, even while traveling.  Perhaps that is all that intrinsic motivation needs to be.  Perhaps one day soon I will long to do quad lifts and biceps curls the way I now long to be on my bike.

A hui hou.

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