I quite recently (in the latter half of 2018) began frequenting fitness centers. At the time, I followed a routine that included 20 minutes on a bike, 10 minutes on a rowing machine, and 15 minutes on the stair machine. Nothing in particular inspired me to start attending to the gym; I had no plans to improve my physical appearance in any way.
There was no way my physical form was ever meant to play any role in the plan. Going to the gym a couple times a week allowed me to think about my relationship and the choice I knew I had to make. A mental break provided by mindless physical activity allowed me to finally end my marriage a year and a half later.
In March of 2020, I stopped coming to the gym, and it wasn’t until the summer of 2021 that I started going again. This time around, I went into it with a specific objective in mind: to improve my mental and physical toughness. Period.
Between March 2020 and June 2021, I did not engage in much physical activity except from weekly horseback riding classes, strolling the dogs around the neighborhood, and the occasional 20-minute yoga session on YouTube. I was content with my life; I had no desire to change it, had no resources to join a gym, and didn’t feel the need to buy any special equipment in order to get a good workout on my stair stepper. You knew I had to get out of here eventually.
That’s the important part.
My then-boyfriend, who was also on a personal fitness quest, invited me to the gym in our building one day. This sounded like a good time, so I decided to do it. In all honesty, I didn’t anticipate having a good time, but I did anticipate that we would have a wonderful time together, and that was plenty.
And lo and behold, that single visit snowballed into several weekly visits, and then into daily visits. I rarely did anything intense; instead, I frequently used the gym’s jump box, and my partner would supplement my routine with some light squat work with the balls.
As a result, I decided to start swimming 10 laps in the building’s pool every day and rapidly got rather taken with the results. Not the physical (to be honest, I didn’t notice changes in my body for months), but the mental — as someone who issues with anxiety, I started to notice that my nervous sensations were worse on the days when I didn’t walk around that much. No big surprise there; plenty of studies have shown the mental and emotional benefits of exercise, but sometimes you just have to experience it for yourself to believe it.
One autumn in 2021, I decided I wanted to try something new. My goals for this go-around were to prioritize strength training and muscle gain. Since we were living in a building next to a park, in October we started walking the park’s loop twice a day, for a total of about 8.5 miles per week.
The ease with which I was able to complete the trek, as well as the physical benefits I experienced from simply walking, came as a nice surprise. All I did was walk for 1.5 hours a day, and I saw improvements in my ab definition and overall strength, as well as in the size and strength of my legs.
Most mornings, we get up around 6:30 or 7 in order to get our walk out of the way first thing. All of our relationships and mental health have suffered as a result of this. During our strolls, we can catch up on each other’s day, discuss our plans for the future, plan a trip, discuss our kids, and explore deeper themes in our personal lives and in our partnership.
Aside from the obvious health benefits of walking, we also manage to get a lot done during this period.
When you shift your focus from what you believe is wrong with you to what you may achieve from working out, as my friend Amanda recently put it, “something powerful happens.” Going to the gym or walking great distances every day takes on an entirely other feel. She had avoided fitness centers and gyms for years before finally deciding to give them a try “Insight number one: strength training. To be strong is to forever be young.
However, the biggest benefit was a dramatic increase in self-assurance.”
Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Transformed the World by Danielle Friedman piqued my interest. This book is written by Danielle and discusses how many women’s attitudes toward exercise have shifted since the health crisis. Because it is currently more difficult and unsafe for women to participate in group exercise programs, many of them are instead exploring new forms of exercise in the comfort of their own homes, or even just discovering the liberating effects of going for a stroll.
Results go beyond whether or not women alter their appearance; women regain their strength.
Danielle also argues that women are redefining “true exercise” by rejecting the notion that their fitness objectives must be centered on what will make a man pleased, on how they will appear on Instagram, on whether they will gain or lose weight. The fitness industry is adjusting its language to suit the growing body-positive movement. We might be cynical about this, but as Danielle points out, it also shows that our understanding of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle for women is expanding.
My experiences with physical activity are ever-changing. I’ve recently started included leg and arm exercises in my weekly routine for the sake of experimentation, and I must say that I really enjoy them. I’m happy with my current muscular mass, and I’m even happier that it’s starting to define itself.
That I can walk for hours if I choose to gives me a wonderful feeling. I had no clue that being physically and mentally stronger was so closely linked to the path I was about to go upon, but now that I do, I don’t think I can ever turn back.