Last month, I suited up in a shiny (literally) new lycra ensemble and headed to the gym for the first time in ten years or so. I hung out at gyms a lot in my twenties and early thirties. Then, when my kids got too old for the childcare room (world’s most awesome lifesaver for moms) I gave up my membership. Said goodbye to the distinctive mustysweaty smell, the creak of weight machines, the chirpy fitness instructors, the cadre of big guys in the corner doing free weights. Frankly I had just become a little tired of the whole routine.
When I gave up the gym I picked up tennis again – which I’d played some as a kid – and started focusing more on my yoga practice. I thought I was staying in pretty good shape from those activities, with some walking and jogging sprinkled in. But since I’ve started doing some fitness classes, I’ve been reacquainted with muscles that I’d forgotten about. I feel stronger after just about a month of strength training classes, twice a week. And guess what – that strength has translated into a better tennis game and a stronger yoga practice. Anyone who has ever done a shaky side plank or crow pose will know whereof I speak.
I’ve always believed that healthy living is a balance of habit and variety. This experience illustrated for me just how delicate that balance can be.
Cultivating healthy habits is so very important. To maintain a healthy lifestyle for the long haul, you need to have everyday healthy routines that you don’t even think about and integrate into your life. That might mean always eating a healthy breakfast, taking a walk at lunch, going to a weekly exercise class, taking the stairs, or taking home half of big restaurant meals.
But even good habits, when taken too their extreme, can lead to a rut. Located within those healthy habits there needs to be variety. Having a habit of exercising three times a week is fantastic – but doing something a little different each of those days might be even better, allowing you to mix up the muscles you use. If bringing a salad to work every day for lunch is good, bringing a different salad every day is great.
I had to be reminded of all this the hard way. I ended up in the gym because a bad case of tennis elbow sidelined me from the courts for several months. Not only had I been playing a lot of tennis, but I was executing my forehand wrong, leading to a repetitive injury. Variety – “cross training” in fitnesspeak– can shield you some from this kind of thing. If you’re mixing it up, using different parts of your body, you’re less likely to injure something. There’s also lots of good evidence that variety in exercise gives better results overall. When your body gets used to moving a certain way, it gets just a little too efficient – you burn fewer calories and your fitness level doesn’t improve as much.
I look at diet in a similar way. Having a varied diet is like hedging your bets. Sensational food journalism to the contrary, I’m not convinced there is a magic formula for healthy eating. So I try to get a wide variety of the tried and true foods that have been deemed nutritious over time by reputable sources – fruits and veggies of all kinds, fish and poultry, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, etc. Then, I might add a dash of whatever the trendy superfood is that week: like soy (SO last decade), flaxseed (also a little dated), goji berries, chia seeds. Ok I admit I haven’t tried chia seeds yet but it makes me sound hip, doesn’t it? I have, however, had a Chia Pet. So should we have been eating our Chia Pets all those years….? But I digress.
Thankfully, exercising regularly is a habit that’s been ingrained in me for a long time. But I’m glad for the wake up call courtesy of my achy elbow: even the healthiest habits can become less healthy when overdone. When I’ve had my fill of the gym for a while, perhaps it will be time for something else. Salsa dancing? Hooping? Water aerobics?
What will do to shake up your routine in 2014?