Re-evaluating "physical" goals for 2024.
As we know, losing weight is one of the most common goals that people set for themselves on New Year's Eve. I do not have statistics on this, it just felt right to assume. What if this year was different? What if this year we all set a goal to simply be physically active. Not to push ourselves to our limits or intentionally exercise, but to just be physical in what we pursue throughout other areas of our lives. What if the goal this year was to... have fun?
I know this might sound really silly, but this is something I have playing with all calendar year. Growing up, I was pushed hard for youth sports. Volleyball and basketball (mostly basketball) were a huge part of my life and our coaches took personal and team development seriously. I conditioned year round for basketball alone. I attended camps all summer long from age 10 and beyond. I was pushed physically to my limits on a regular basis. Talking with friends I grew up with we all feel similar in one regard - we kind of grew to associate exercise with either a) something we hate or b) something that has to be intense and difficult to be worthwhile.
This is not true.
The biggest misconception I have had about my weight and body, about what it is to be healthy, is that I have to push myself to my limits, pour sweat, and collapse; that if it is not killing me, I am not doing it right. This made me boycott exercise for a very long time. I was burnt out. Once in a blue moon I would push myself to run outdoors or on the treadmill. It always killed my knees, but I thought this is what it was to be healthy. In my mind, healthy people were runners, so I needed to be a runner.
I have never, not even in my youth, been able to run further than one mile at a time. Even one mile is honestly pushing it for me. Physically my body just was not made to do it. Sprinting? Maybe. Distance running? No. I used to periodically run that one mile and feel miserable all throughout my 20's, then tell myself it was because I was out of shape that I struggled. I then mentally beat myself up for that.
After the [cyclical] realization that I was "out of shape," I forced myself into an exercise routine because I thought I needed that to feel better. It never actually helped. I dreaded it. I hated going to the gym, it felt like such a chore and not something I wanted to work into my schedule.
There was no joy.
I felt this way for a long time, even with yoga, something I truly love. I started doing yoga when I was young thanks to the P90X discs my parents invested in. I would have been probably 13 years old when they brought that home. They never had any interest in the yoga but it intrigued me because... this was pre internet-in-the-palm-of-your-hand era and I did not know what yoga was. I remember following the workout at home with Tony from P90X and loving it. I regularly followed that same workout throughout junior high and high school. When I moved for college and had access to yoga studios, I started joining classes that pushed me hard. Power vinyasa and hot yoga, where I was sure to drown in sweat. I went less and less as time passed. I started to hate it, too. This went on for years.
I like to think of 2023 as my year of trial and error. I spent the year implementing new routines, new hobbies, and new interests. I spent it experimenting with what I like and do not like, what I want, and what makes my life fulfilling. I educated myself on myself. It was exhausting. I am still fucking exhausted from it. However, there is one thing I can say for certain, one thing that I believe more than anything else I learned about myself this year and it is this: I never intentionally exercise anymore and it is the best decision I have ever made.
It feels ludicrous that as a certified wellness coach I would sit here and say that I never intentionally exercise but hear me out. This calendar year in my pursuit of happiness, I discovered that pursuing hobbies that I enjoy and that supported my need for community, naturally kept me physically active.
With that in mind, let's remember that physical activity and exercise are two different things. I realize it has been a solid decade since I have played non-recreational sports, but it was only this year that I recognized that I am no longer an athlete. I do not need to do intense exercise or be pushed to my physical limits, nor do I want to. What I personally need is to be happy and healthy. The biggest realization this year is that physical activity makes me happy and keeps me healthy, where exercise has had the opposite effect for me (big emphasis on, "for me" here).
For context, I joined a recreational volleyball league in January and made some great friends. We play together once a week and have done this the entire calendar year. I remembered my love for swimming this year thanks to our pool. I found myself swimming multiple days a week this summer for fun, even diving down with goggles and exploring the bottom of the pool like I would do as a child. I got back into guided yoga classes, but medium flow or deep stretch every other week - because I enjoy yoga and like to focus on breathwork, not my heart rate pounding out of my chest. This led me to give my yoga mats a "home" in my home, and I found myself naturally doing self-guided yoga in my free time or when I felt like I needed a breath. I walked regularly with James because it became a fun way to unwind and discuss our days together. I then started a "neighborhood walk" for everyone on our dead end road once a month to meet and walk together; with community being the main goal and physical activity being a biproduct of that.
I am the healthiest physically and mentally that I have been in my entire life.
I do not say that as a flex. I say it because I am downright floored by it.
When I watched "Living to 100 - Life in the Blue Zones" on Netflix, everything about what I experienced this year made sense. Majority of the people who are living these long lives are people who are not necessarily exercising with intent to exercise. At times, their day-to-day lives simply involved physical activity through their work or the fact that they live in an area where driving is not as big of a deal as it is here in the U.S. But a lot of the time they are people who are living a life that fulfills them (honors their values and supports their hobbies), and physical activity organically comes from it.
What a concept.
Maybe you are reading this and know exactly what you enjoy that supports physical activity - especially those gym goers or runners that truly enjoy it - I will always have so much respect for you all; or maybe you are thinking, "wait... what are my hobbies, interests or values that naturally support physical activity...?" I resonate with that. I was not really able to identify my values or my hobbies until this calendar year, let alone anything that would support movement.
If you find yourself asking that question, I encourage you to sit down and do some brainstorming to trial and error with. Living a life that upholds our values is the only way to pursue a truly fulfilling life. I do not normally make such blunt statements in my blog, but I stand by this.
Today's blog is not meant to encourage you to quit your gym, or to throw your weight loss goals aside. It is not meant to encourage really much of anything. It is, however, meant to plant a seed. To give you some food for thought. Maybe this year is the year of you. Maybe in pursuit of your joy, connection to others and the world around you, you will naturally find yourself moving more, cooking more, playing more; giving mental health a chance to organically influence your physical health.
So with that said, Happy New Year to you all!
If you find yourself setting a new goal for this calendar year and looking for an accountability partner for your journey, be sure to enter my 12-Week Coaching Program Giveaway for a chance to win!