I have been pretty active my whole life. In high school, it wasn't uncommon for me to go from cheerleading practice, to soccer practice, to a gymnastics lesson in one day.
In college, I would go for runs or take a workout class every couple of days. Until recently, I had a very healthy relationship with exercise. I did it because I enjoyed it, I did it in moderation but also pushed myself when it felt good.
Over the past several years, my exercise habits changed - I increased the frequency of my workouts a lot and my sessions became longer and more intense. About five years ago, I started running distances over three miles. That grew to five miles, then six to seven miles. Rather than every other day, I started exercising every day. I stopped going to the fun dance classes I loved and opted for more intense sweat sessions. I made sure I worked out for at least an hour each time.
Each time I worked out, the goal was purely to burn as many calories as possible. The thought of "wasting time" with recreational exercise was frightening. If I had an intense session that morning, only then would I allow myself to do something easy like yoga at night. I became addicted to exercise.
When I was undereating, this was obviously a major problem. I tend to freak out when I am forced to make big changes all at once. I love routine. So the option of eating more and cutting back on exercise completely was NOT an option. But now that I am used to a new set of eating habits and have toned down the length and frequency of my workouts, I think I am ready to evaluate whether even more cut backs are necessary.
At the height of my exercise addiction, I would workout for about 60-90 minutes a day seven days a week (most of this was intense cardio). Now I workout 45-60 minutes a day six days a week (a mixture of moderate-intense cardio, walking, and weight training). I don't get bent out of shape if I can't get a planned workout in, but I do still feel slightly uncomfortable. The point is that I have made changes, but I question whether I should make a second phase of changes.
I realized that this was something I needed to think about when I returned from my trip. Maybe because I realized that life is too short to spend it in a gym and the body is fragile and should be treated kindly. Maybe because I realized that it was nice to not plan my days around exercise and maybe I could live more of my life on a "vacation" of sorts...
I also had the realization that no matter how much I love exercise, I think that some of the reasons I do it so often are not because of that enjoyment. I think that it has become such a normal part of my routine, I haven't questioned my motives and I haven't thought enough about whether it makes me a happier person.
Sometimes I have a hard time articulating this reasoning clearly. So I am going to make a list of why I think I may need to change my exercise habits. And then I will make a list of why I feel like maybe I shouldn't. This is a technique my dad taught me when I used to freak out about decisions as a kid.
Ok, a list of why I should workout less:
- Now that my metabolism is working, I need to eat so much to feel satisfied. This is annoying and sometimes it is hard to make sure I am eating enough.
- I worry that my body may be getting run down. My muscles are often sore or tired.
- I workout in the morning, and sometimes I'd rather sleep in.
- Deep down I am afraid that if I stop exercising, I will gain more weight, when I was hoping that I had reached my set point (I know, I know, this is a red flag).
- I may be doing more harm than good, maybe we aren't meant to be so active? This article suggests I may still be overdoing it.
- I want to be able to trust my body to manage itself without me forcing exercise upon it. I am afraid that I am still not there yet and may need to do this to get there.
Now a list of why my current exercise habits are fine as is:
- A lot of people exercise every day and I am not nearly as active as athletes or models.
- I enjoy the early mornings and I love being up and about.
- I feel energized after my workouts now, not exhausted like I used to.
- My muscles get plenty of rest because I sit at a desk job all day when I am not active.
- I take one rest day a week, and I don't work out intensely every day anymore - so I am getting plenty of rest.
- I don't have any injuries, and I don't want to lose my stamina.
- I feel a little guilty and weird when I don't exercise, I don't want to feel like that.
Or maybe I am just over thinking this. The "intuitive exercise" thing is difficult when your habits are so engrained into your everyday life. I just don't want to hurt myself anymore at all, so I think it is worth taking a deeper look. Experimenting with cutting back seems like a good idea, but I am so paralyzed by routine and fear.
Anyone have advice or experiences to share?