The idea for this blog was that I wanted to write about holistic wellness – which includes physical wellness. To be well-rounded I didn’t want to neglect posts about physical wellness but I’m also not suuper qualified to write it, and I believe in asking for help when you need it, so this week I’ve persuaded one of my closest friends to write a guest post. Without further ado, here she is!
Hi, my name is Emilia and I hate cardio.
Really and truly, I do. And yet Kait asked me to write about physical health.
Let me explain…
As a kinesiology/nutrition student and an athlete-turned-couch-potato-turned-yogi, I think I have a pretty unique perspective on physical health. I’m going to focus in on exercise here (even though there are so so many more important components, some of which I may be covering in future blog posts) and what I’ve learned through my experience and my studies.
Scary Journal Articles & the Best Kind of Exercise
In university I found myself out of shape after swapping out competitive sports for intramurals. In high school, fitness was effortless, with the frequency and intensity of hockey and volleyball being easily enough to keep me in good physical condition. I was used to having games and practices at least 4 times per week, so my new weekly intermediate volleyball situation wasn’t cutting it. The occasional Zumba classes that I attended were only kind of hard and extremely contingent on having other people who were equally bad dancers beside me. I found myself inspired to go for a run about four times a year in the spring when it was finally warm enough to go outside in a t-shirt (and my motivation was getting a tan).
But then in class, I was assigned readings about how lack of exercise impacts your body: essentially, it sets you up for disease – which is scary to constantly be reading about when you know your physical activity level isn’t where it should be.
So it’s taken a while, but this year I’ve found an exercise regime that I’ve been able to stick with more consistently than anything since high school sports: yoga. I look forward to going to yoga classes. I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with achieving new poses. I feel so much better now that I’m being regularly active. I experience some neck and back pain, and yoga has taught me to move mindfully throughout my daily activities in a way that promotes strength and stability in the spine. I like how yoga strengthens full-body movements rather than just a group of muscles (you would never EVER convince me to do “arm day”). I so appreciate the cultivation of stillness, awareness, and respect for the body. I love that yoga is referred to as a practice, because isn’t everything?
But all of that is not to say that yoga is the best form of exercise for everyone and your fitness routine can’t possibly be complete without it. It is to say that yoga is a great form of exercise for me. You do not have to do yoga, just like you do not have to run or lift weights or play sports. The best form of exercise is the one that you enjoy. It really is that simple. I know the internet is full of “this exercise will give you a six-pack” and “high intensity interval training vs. aerobic exercise,” but when it comes down to it, if you like aerobic training and you can’t stand HIIT, aerobic is better for you because you will actually do it. Physical activity can complicated, and there’s a place for specialized knowledge, but it’s important to start at the beginning; you can uncomplicate fitness if you want to.
So give yoga a try. And if it doesn’t work for you, no worries – something else will.
Finding Physical Activity that Works for You: Motivation, Routine, and Using Your Friends
My biggest motivation to exercise is lifelong health. I don’t want to have to take medications or watch my blood pressure. I want to enjoy my life at every stage; I want to be independent and have the energy to go travelling and play with my grandchildren someday. And guess what: that’s a horrible motivator because I am 21 and that is all incredibly far away. I’m a last-minute person, and unfortunately, lifelong health is not a paper that you can hand in 2 minutes before the deadline. It takes dedication and consistent practice over years and years.
So what else motivates me? Feeling good. An excuse to watch guilt-free 20-minute Netflix episodes. Enjoyment. Having visible biceps. Stress management. Not needing to use both arms to open doors. An activity in common with friends. Seeing personal progress. The best motivators are not always the most meaningful or profound ones. And that’s okay. Find what inspires you and go with it.
I’ve struggled with sticking to workout plans; I did yoga sporadically for a few years before I started doing it consistently. Pro tip: going to “free for first-timer” classes at every single yoga studio in your city will not help you build a consistent practice. So what changed? I started attending classes in the morning, over lunch, or after work. This works because the yoga sessions are planned into my schedule and they’re part of my routine. These classes have also given me a baseline knowledge of yoga, which has allowed me to expand my practice beyond these sessions because I’m much more successful when I try to flow on my own.
Which brings me to my next point: you’re not alone! There’s no reason for you to walk into a gym, get intimidated, and leave because you don’t know how to lift weights. If anything, that’s harmful to your health because a) you won’t want to go back and b) if you do stick it out, you’ll probably be lifting with improper form. Bring an experienced friend. Hire a personal trainer. Go to a class with a qualified instructor. Follow along with a YouTube video. There are so many resources available to help you attain your physical health goals – use them!
‘No Pain No Gain’
As far as exercise principles and techniques go, I will just say that having learned all about exercise physiology, the biomechanics of movement, and being an athlete, I truly believe that the most important exercise principle is listening to your body. Learn the difference between pain and discomfort: discomfort pushes you and improves your athletic performance. It gets your heart rate up and uncovers weakness and stretches tight muscles. Pain is not helpful for your body. ‘Push through the pain’ is a misinformed, outdated concept: this attitude exists because before scientists had a proper understanding of injuries and rehabilitation, coaches encouraged their athletes to ‘be tough’ and ‘suck it up,’ pushing them to play through injuries. We now know that two of the best things you can do for an injury are resting and protecting it. Pain serves a purpose in the body: it is a warning. It tells us that we are putting too much strain on or even damaging tissues. Do not push through pain. It will cause injuries and worsen existing conditions.
Practice Makes Progress
Finally, allow your physical activity regime to be a work in progress. I’m really proud of where I am right now, and there is also lots of room for improvement! It will be good to build some volleyball with my sister back into my routine when school starts in the fall. I’m also interested in trying kickboxing classes.
Fitness is dynamic: it can grow and change as needed. And this is the cool part: you can construct a program for yourself based around your goals. You get to choose the frequency and intensity. It’s up to you to say “screw arm day” or “I hate running so I’m not going to go for a run.” Your life can be set up to accommodate your exercise. And you can change your fitness as your schedule, goals, desire, and/or physical needs require.