I have been exercising in a different way recently which has been life changing and very supportive for my body.
I have worked as a physical therapist for decades and ‘told’ lots of people what exercises to do. I developed many individual programs for people to recover from injury and return to their specific sport, and used to pride myself on their achievements.
When people asked me what I did for my exercise program, I would laugh and say “do as I say, not as I do.”
Slowly through my working life, I realised I needed to exercise: I could feel I was losing strength and tone as I was ageing. I’ve always been active during my day, and I used to think that was enough.
Not coincidently, a new gym opened very locally and had a special offer so I joined it. I enjoyed going at the start; I went swimming 3-5 times a week, attended some line dancing classes and an exercise class for over 50’s.
I also had a personal trainer who advised me which weights to use. As I went more regularly, I became more fit. I returned to the trainer a few times, until I thought that there must be a point where I am at my optimum and can stay there. I felt there would be a level where this constant increase of exercise would become harmful to my body, so I decided to plateau with the gym work and concentrate on swimming, which in truth I enjoyed much more.
But with the swimming, again I started to push myself. I managed 50 lengths over 1 week and then increased it to 60, then 80, which was a mile. Woo hoo!, I was swimming a mile a week.
Then I pushed to swimming 50 lengths a session and if I didn’t manage that, I felt I’d failed myself. By the time I’d reached 80 lengths a session, I could feel how I was swimming much less for pleasure; rather, I needed to complete the goal.
I would see people get into the pool and do a few lengths and exit quickly and think “how pointless was that?”
My membership lapsed as I had forgotten to renew it. Ok, I decided, it was time for a break. I stopped and did virtually no exercise at all to see how that felt… I was aware I could get away with this for a while.
I then had an episode of lower back pain. I was quite stressed at the time with work and emotional issues. I remember thinking, “for goodness sake, now this as well!”
I did not understand it as a stop moment – it felt like yet another thing I needed to sort out.
It took me a couple of years to start to honestly look at my life and see how the way I chose to live affected every area/aspect of my life. I tended to do all or nothing, and when I was in the ‘all’ I pushed myself hard with everything, and had done so for a very long time.
Over the following couple of years I learnt a different way of caring for myself. I now see the back pain was a great stop moment I was given to show me that I hadn’t been supporting my physical body and caring for myself.
I returned quite slowly to exercise, by walking and going occasionally to a local pool. My fitness level and muscle tone had plummeted in the gap of not exercising at all; my commitment to myself was also quite sporadic – I would exercise when I had the time, and if at the end of the day I had made no time, then it wouldn’t happen.
But as my level of self-care has improved, exercise has moved higher on the list of importance. And I am realising a very different way of exercising, by feeling what my body wants to do.
I started my new exercise program with a few core exercises and a little daily walk. It has taken time for me to feel the benefit of the exercises, but I have continued them, with more commitment to myself, and my health and with this my fitness, has improved.
I realised that this is my responsibility, to myself, to give my body more care and attention.
When I have been pushing myself, I was in disregard of the messages my body was giving me and at the time I wasn’t exercising at all, I was absolving myself of any responsibility of looking after my body at all.
The body is my vehicle of expression and I have been telling others to do exercises for years, but not lived my own words. This is a huge opportunity for me to now reflect to everyone I meet by example, at work or in my daily life.
I exercise gently now most days. It may be a walk in the countryside or my garden, an exercise class, a bounce on a trampoline, some gentle connective tissue stretches at the computer, some core exercises – or I can swim crawl (freestyle) for a few lengths in the local pool.
I now listen to my body and exercise it whatever way I feel to, with great joy and confirmation for the health of my body. It’s my connection to myself that guides the exercise I choose to do, and supports me and my body to be Fit for Life… and now I’m off to exercise!
By Gill Randall, beautiful woman, physiotherapist, Grad Dip Phys, Banbury, UK