Working out is one of those things doctors ask about that some people fudge a little. (OK, it's me, I'm some people.) No, of course I don't eat fast food often. I rarely, if ever, have more than one drink a night. Yes, I definitely work out every day. The truth is, it's complicated. When I was younger, working out happened naturally — during dance and tae kwon do classes, at soccer games, and even when hanging out with my friends. As I got older, took on grad school, got married, and had two kids, well, it became a real effort that I wasn't so great at keeping up with. By the time the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic this spring, I already hadn't worked out in months. Other than family walks and the occasional shopping-counts-as-cardio moments, my heart rate would only rise during tense movies and when I was struggling to meet a work deadline.
All that changed on May 4. My anxiety was at an all-time high due to COVID-19 and living with my parents, and I decided to do something about it. Working out felt like the natural solution. I wanted — no, needed — those feel-good endorphins that I wasn't getting anywhere else.
I wasn't sure where to start, so my goal was just to close all three rings on my Apple watch (30 minutes of exercise, 12 standing hours, 600 active calories burned) five times a week. At first, this felt impossible, so, I started small. I would set aside time each day to do a 10-minute exercise video. These were almost all from POPSUGAR Fitness, since many of these workouts were beginner-friendly or at least had modifications I could do. Then, I would go on a walk with my family. I also asked my husband to do the workouts with me, which ended up being a great form of bonding (plus, it turned into some good ol' fashioned competition). I've always been a social person, so I tried to incorporate ways to connect with my family — and get in some exercise at the same time — as often as I could.
Week one was hard. I was surprised — didn't I used to do 60-plus minutes at the gym and never get this sore? Every single muscle ached, but I knew active recovery (i.e., doing light exercises like walking, doing short cardio videos, and stretching) was better than stopping. During this time, I took Tylenol when needed; enjoyed lots of soothing, hot showers; and asked my husband for back massages. (He is the best!) I also bought a foam roller and learned how to do some stretches to help relieve tension.
Week two, I upped my routine a little bit by switching to 15- and 20-minute exercise videos as well as continuing to close my exercise ring with walking and stretching. The workouts themselves were starting to get easier; the timing was not. Sometimes, I would wake up early to fit in a quick sweat sesh before the kids woke up. Other times, I would try to do it with them, which made the moves extra hard as they climbed all over me. Often, it wouldn't be until 8:30 or 9 p.m., once the kids were in bed, that I would finally get a chance to exercise. I was glad I got it in — not so glad about the boost of energy right before bed.
By weeks three and four, I really started to focus on doing full 30-minute workouts each day. I also managed to keep it up for five days a week (alternating which two days I took as rest days). At this point, I finally started to not just like workouts but to also crave them. Working out was my time to do something for me. I could let out my stress from politics, the pandemic, work, my family, and everything else and just focus on how good it felt to finally get my breathing under control, master a few push-ups that weren't on my knees, and up how heavy my weights were. I was working out to improve my mood and be healthier overall, so I didn't focus on the numbers on the scale. Instead, I enjoyed small moments with my kids learning how to work out with me, spending time with my husband that was lighthearted fun, and feeling myself getting stronger.
After working out consistently for four months, my endurance and strength improved dramatically. I was doing 30- to 60-minute workouts every day, still going on (now bonus) family walks, and improving every day. I also noticed some physical benefits — my periods were more manageable, my digestion and diet improved, and I lost inches off my waist and hips.
When we moved, I had another temporary workout setback. What can I say? Unpacking definitely counts as cardio. But after only a few weeks off, it was much easier than before to ease back into it. The emotional highs that come from completing a good exercise, the happiness on my kids' faces when I can run and play with them in the backyard, and the way I just feel better is my motivation to keep it up. Oh yeah, and getting sweaty with my husband is always a good thing, too. I will never regret taking control of my health and integrating regular workouts into my life again. With just a little determination — and a lot of creativity — you can do it, too!