What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
When I was a kid, my friends and I kept in shape by simply playing. We climbed trees, played Capture the Flag, wrestled, rode our bikes to the beach and swam. Of course, we didn’t think of these activities as “keeping in shape,” we were just having fun.
I also took dance classes for years, from ballet to jazz. I was not aspiring to be a professional dancer of any sort. I was OK at it, but I suspected that while my dance training couldn’t hurt, I wasn't going to become famous because of my dance abilities.
I never really thought much about my body until my tweens. I became freakishly tall, topping out at just under 5’9” -– and yeah, I know 5’9” isn’t that tall, but for some reason I was often asked, “How tall ARE you, anyway? More importantly, I was kind of “big,” or at least bigger than many of my friends who were mostly size 5’s or 7’s to my 9. Once that bigness entered my mind, it took up residence and I agonized over it, periodically resorting to diets that were popular at the time, like the Scarsdale Diet. I even took Dexatrim at one point, but stopped after a couple days because it gave me the shakes.
The Bigness aside, being fit wasn’t anything I aimed for, except that I knew I loved being physically active. It felt good to move. When I relocated from Massachusetts to New York City in ’87 to attend art school, my moving pretty much screeched to a halt. Walking a block or two to the subway and dancing with my friends at nightclubs like The Tunnel and The World -- cocktails in hand -- were really the extent of it. That, combined with eating a whole lot of Bojangles fried chicken and biscuits and all sorts of other junk, I put on about 45 pounds that year. So much for the “freshman 15.”
I don’t recall that weight gain happening, it just was. I remember jiggling when I walked and wondering, “What IS that?” It was then that I started thinking about fitness. I was in my early 20’s and I determined that if I could get moving again, all would be as it should. I started skipping the subway and walking everywhere, which definitely helped. So did skipping the Bojangles. I also started a job where the owner was WAY into fitness, giving us all gym memberships and, for a time, our own personal trainer.
I also had a new boyfriend who I wanted to impress, so I was extra motivated to lose the weight and get in killer shape. I enjoyed taking classes at the gym, like a house music dance class that I took religiously every Saturday, also spin, yoga and step (remember step?) and I used the cardio machines and weights in the gym. The boyfriend didn’t last, but the love of fitness did. I eventually married an amazing man who was into fitness too, so we would go to the gym together. We are celebrating our 10th anniversary this year.
When I got pregnant, I continued to go to the gym and also took prenatal yoga. But once our daughter, Sadie Mae, was born, just getting to the gym or to yoga became almost impossible. I couldn’t figure out how to balance work at a small beauty company I founded with two partners + time with family and friends + working out. I still walked everywhere, and carried Sadie in the Bjorn as long as my back would take it, but I knew I needed more. I started to buy fitness videos with 30-minute run times that I knew I could squeeze into my schedule a few days a week. I also went to the gym when I could. When we moved to the suburbs when Sadie was two, I stopped going to the gym altogether. A longer commute = less spare time. I dove full on into fitness videos and in good weather I walked or ran in the neighborhood. Mind you, finding the right fitness videos that work for you is a process of trial and error. Luckily for me, shortly after we moved to the burbs, I left the beauty company and became a lifestyle writer. One of the amazing perks of this job is that I get to try lots of cool stuff. At this point, I think I have tested about 100 fitness videos and have a pile of favorites that I cycle through, mixing it up so I don’t get bored.
I have committed to working out six days a week even when I travel (I bring my vids with me and work out in the hotel room or use the hotel gym). At 45, there are some things I can’t do anymore, i.e. burpees, because they hurt my back and heavy weights, because they hurt my shoulder, so working out at home is actually better for me because I can adjust my workouts for those age-related limitations. I weigh three pounds more than I did in high school, and I feel freaking fantastic. Do I wish I was in triathlete-like shape? Sure, but I still feel damn good.
Some of my favorite fitness videos:
Jessica Smith: 10 Pounds Down - Cardio Abs, which has 3 30 minute workouts on it (I like #2 and #3) and 10 Pounds Down - Better Body Blast, which has 3 20 minute workouts: Arms, Legs and Abs. I generally do the Arms or the Legs and then 1/2 or all of the Abs. You will be sore the next day with any of her workouts.
Ellen Barrett: She's a little old school but the workouts are good.
Sleek Sculpt Express (30 mins) - you use 3lb weights with this one. Fun, fast paced. I’m pretty sore the next day after this one.
Super Fast Body Blast (30 mins) - aerobics, but low impact. It will get you sweating but you won't injure yourself!
Kristen McGee's Strong, Sexy, Svelte This DVD has 3 25-minute workouts - I prefer #2 and #3, which are Pilates and YogaFlow, respectively. There is also a 5-minute cardio workout, which is a good warmup. These are on the tougher side.
Element: My favorites are Element Yoga for Strength and Flexibility, which two 30 minute workouts. One is a slow paced but pretty challenging Yoga workout, and the other is a Flexibility workout, which is a good one if you’re sore. The Element Complete Pilates Kit is a two-DVD set with several good Pilates workouts of varying lengths (most are 30 mins). It also comes with two exercise bands.
How do you fit exercise into your life? I know it ain't easy!