Why Making Exercise Less Structured Might Be Good for Your Health

Write in on your calendar. Wake up before the sun comes up. Schedule fitness classes weeks in advance to hold yourself accountable.
These are all classic tips for how to make exercise fit into your day no matter what, and I'll be the first to admit that I used to recommend them all. And while they are helpful for some, for others the exercise relationship is a little bit more complicated. 

When I was in college, I went through a phase where I felt guilty if I didn’t get a heart-pounding, sweaty and exhausting workout on most days of the week. I took all of the above tips seriously and told myself that it was the only way to maintain a healthy lifestyle (and trust me, my college years were not my healthiest but that's another post). Exercise was mechanical and usually boring and just majorly lacking in variety. The good news: I always worked at a gym so my membership was free. The bad news: I was surrounded by a totally diet and appearance focused culture that I unfortunately participated in for a little bit too long.

Fast forward about ten years and my approach to physical activity is completely different, but I am just as consistent with getting active now as I was then. How is it possible? I got a whole lot more relaxed about it. I found that I really actually enjoyed running and training for races. I also discovered that walking does wonders for my mental health and is accessible no matter what (all you need is shoes). Weight lifting classes are fun and make me feel strong, confident and energized (especially when followed by an epic brunch with friends). Most importantly, if structured exercise isn’t going to happen on certain days, it doesn’t make for a stressful situation, it usually just means I'm more excited to get moving the next day, whatever that might look like.

Exercise should not be a punishment for your body because of what you ate or what you weigh; it's an important step towards good health and ultimately makes you feel just plain awesome.  Exercise is highly effective for stress relief and relaxation, helps build and maintain strong muscles and bones, and keeps your heart pumping strong. It also helps you sleep better which is a pretty nice perk. I love this quote by dietitian and counselor Molly Kellogg that I recently came across:

People tend to believe it is hating their body that will motivate them to change their behaviors. This tends to be a short-term motivator, if at all. Accepting our bodies and wanting them to be as healthy and functional as possible focuses the mind on the behaviors that will serve us best.

This is not to say that structure or goals are always a bad thing, hence the key word “might” in the title. Exercise can be a great opportunity for physical and mental challenge, goal setting and athleticism which are all awesome things too. You might just keep this idea in mind the next time you feel down on yourself about choosing a rest day over a run.  

The Importance of Self-Care During Busy Seasons

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So this last few weeks have been C R A Z Y busy. And I don’t like to use the “b” word lightly because it’s kind of a pet peeve when this happens:

Q: It’s been forever – how are you?

A: Busy!

I’m guilty of it too, but I’m really trying to stop doing this. After all, when someone is asking me about what’s new in my life, I’m sure they are looking for something a little bit more meaningful in a response. But I digress…

Today I wanted to talk about the importance of self-care during busier seasons of life. In addition to my usual work/school combo, I just recently added house-hunting to my list. Who knew how time-consuming this was?! I'm sure many of you know. Throughout the last few weeks I have realized that self-care and exercise are always the first things to go when my time is limited, and it never ends well for me. Here’s how it usually goes:

Full day of activities sans self-care – feel sluggish & burnt out – don’t sleep as well – tired the next day – wake up later than normal and start day on a semi stressful note – less time during the day to accomplish tasks – repeat

As you can see, skipping self-care does not help me in any way (as I often assume it will since I'm removing something from the to-do list). Stepping back to look at the systemic effect of making time for yourself, you can see that it actually makes burn-out way less likely to happen in the long run. So the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes to list your responsibilities, then all of the extra things that come up. Next, look at where you can cut back or rearrange things to work to your advantage instead of against you. Sleep is integral, so make sure to factor in at least 6-8 hours (or whatever you need) first and foremost. Also remember to be realistic.

I know that I need to make exercise a priority for me to feel my best, so I try to get some walking in each day over lunch. This is a total win since it helps break up my sedentary work day, plus the fresh air and sunlight is a huge mood/creativity booster. In case you need some inspiration, here are a few examples of other simple self-care activities that always make me really happy:

  • Taking a hot shower in the evening, putting on the comfiest sweats, and then giving myself a manicure/pedicure
  • Treating myself to a solo dinner date to one of my favorite fast casual spots 
  • Listening to a podcast while strolling around outside
  • Getting ice cream with my husband on a week night, just because
  • Making a time intensive home-cooked meal with some wine (the more chopping, the better)

It is so cliché - but you really can't pour from an empty cup. Making time for yourself will most certainly make you a better friend, spouse, co-worker, parent, etc... so it's important not to skip! I would love to hear about your tips for fitting in self-care when life gets busy, so tell me in the comments:

What is your favorite self-care activity and how do you make time for it?