Changing The Way We See Fitness

I am incredibly clumsy. I have zero abilities with sports. Ask me to do anything involving hitting a ball coming toward me with another object and aim for it to go somewhere, and you’ll get a very annoyed reaction from me. I’m not even good at mini golf. But I love working out.

I’m not sure how I got to this point, because I hated gym class as a kid. I have a very clear memory of getting hit in the face during a game of dodgeball in the 4th grade. I used to get stomachaches on the way to class, and would beg my gym teacher to let me sit out on the sidelines whenever possible. Recently, I read an interesting Facebook status about Phys Ed classes, written by a friend and former student of my mother’s. He said:

[It] would’ve been nice if our ‘phys ed’ teachers actually educated us about physical fitness when we were kids. If they’d conveyed how important it is to develop discipline and regulate mood, instead of just reinforcing the sixth-grade mentality that it’s a way for naturally athletic people to show up everyone else. Can’t help but wonder how things would be different had I developed a healthier relationship to exercise a few decades earlier.

That really got me thinking. Why was the only thing they taught us how to play sports? Because really, how many of us were ever going to become star athletes? Gym class seemed to be the only place in school where bullying was right there in our faces. It wasn’t ever about teamwork, or building up your sense of self confidence in your body and your abilities. It was about competition, and getting other people “out.” It was about getting made to feel like a failure and then getting made fun of for it.

If I’d developed a better relationship with health and fitness as a child, maybe I never would have become obese in the first place. If gym and health class were taught in a combination where we learned about the mechanisms of our bodies, learned how it stored fatty foods it didn’t need, learned how protein-packed foods would keep us full longer so that we had the energy to do things, learned that pushups and sit ups made us stronger, and weren’t just something we had to for the physical fitness program, maybe many of us wouldn’t have learned to see exercise as punishment.

I didn’t turn this around until the summer of 1994 when I started doing step aerobics in the safety of my own home. There was no other team trying to get me out, no competition, no one present except myself and Jane Fonda. I lost twenty pounds, and while I did end up gaining that weight back in college, working out independently changed the way I saw fitness. When I started my weight loss journey, I realized that exercise was the key to getting to my goal faster. I started off only using the elliptical at my gym, headphones firmly in place, ignoring everyone else around me, trying to recapture that feeling I had with Jane Fonda in the tenth grade. As the weight started coming off and I started feeling better, I got over the hatred I’d had for it as a child. I began to see it as that essential hour every day where I’m reminding my heart that it needs to work, when I challenge myself, when I see what I can do.

Now I spin, take turbo kick and circuit training classes, box, lift, run, and do pilates and yoga on my “off” days. I’m turning into a 5K junkie and looking to start training to do a sprint triathlon. It became my hour for me, when I get to turn my mind off, not have to deal with anything else. And if I fall down? If I go the wrong direction in a turbokick class, clap out of sync, look like an idiot, it doesn’t matter. I’m not being graded. There’s no one trying to get me “out.”

I’m doing it for me.

What are some things you do for you? What physical activities do you enjoy?

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