If there’s anything I’ve learned as an adult, it’s that nothing stays the same for long. Jobs change, people move, babies are born, health conditions crop up. Different seasons in our lives ask different things of us. In every season, though, it’s essential that we make time for self-care.
Far from indulgence, true self-care means honoring who we are (mind, body, and soul), where we are, and what we need to be our best selves. I speak from experience when I say it can be all too easy to let physical fitness fall by the wayside. Even when I’ve found my way into a new groove—after the birth of a child, at the beginning of a new school year, or most recently, after a move—there are always obstacles to staying the course.
Over time, I’ve identified a couple of things that have helped me keep perspective and ultimately achieve the fitness goals I wanted. So, pull out your mat, lace up your sneakers, or find your fins, and let’s do this.
01. The right motivation (read: not just to look good) goes a long way.
I’m not going to pretend that shopping and even getting dressed in the morning isn’t more fun when I feel strong and fit. But let’s also acknowledge that a healthy body doesn’t always look the way our culture suggests “fit” should look. To persevere through hiccups in your training and spur-of-the-moment schedule changes, a goal of looking good needs to come in second to a desire to be healthy and to feel good. For one thing, lasting physical change develops slowly and sometimes without our even noticing it. What’s more, a positive attitude toward your value and worth as a woman will motivate you any day of the week.
02. It's okay that it's hard at the beginning; it will get easier.
In any type of exercise, good form is key to getting results. If you’re using muscles you haven’t put to use in a long time (or ones that you didn’t even know you had!), things may be uncomfortable, and you’ll probably feel sore after you work out. Jot down a note at the end of each session, so that you can see your progress over time. Maybe this week you’ll master that roundhouse kick, or next week you’ll successfully complete thirty seconds of mountain climbers. Celebrating the little successes will lead you to reach your larger goals.
03. Plateaus are real.
So you’ve been working out for a few weeks now, and all of a sudden, nothing’s changing. Your weight, mile time, or whatever you’ve been tracking just stopped moving. Once you’ve checked in to make sure you haven’t gotten lax about your intensity, nutrition, or rest (more on that below), consider adding in a different form of exercise as cross training. For example, you might replace one strength-training session each week with thirty minutes of cardio.
04. A balanced workout regimen (cardio, strength, flexibility) will lead to fastest results and least injury.
Speaking of switching things up, don’t underestimate the value of a multi-faceted approach to fitness. Just as we need a variety of foods to stay healthy, so do our bodies thrive on a variety of movements to stay strong. Doing too much of one kind of exercise can put excessive stress on certain muscles, while neglecting others. For example, running uses leg muscles that propel the body forward, but not ones that produce lateral movement. Neglecting strength and flexibility training in the core and hips can lead to knee and ankle injuries down the line. If scheduling a variety of workouts feels overwhelming, look instead for a class or workout style that incorporates all three: boot camp classes or pilates with a cardio focus are good places to start.
05. Injury can happen, so don’t ignore the signs.
Resist the urge to be a hero when it comes to your physical fitness. Yes, it can seem impossible to meet with a physical therapist when your schedule was already packed and now you have this effective fitness routine established. But the reality is that pain (not just soreness) is your body trying to tell you something’s wrong. Ignoring it may mean benching yourself for weeks or months—at which point you’ll have to do the hard work of finding your rhythm all over again. No, thank you.
06. It’s about sleep and nutrition, too.
A healthy approach to fitness requires more than getting sweaty three or four times a week. In between, your body needs enough quality sleep, as well as days off, to recover fully. Likewise, your body needs the proper fuel to make those workout sessions worth your while. Moderation and balance in your nutrition are key to enjoying your workouts and making progress toward your overall wellness goals.
07. Your cycle may play a role in your energy level—it’s not just in your head!
The same workout you did last week was much harder today, even though you got great sleep last night and ate a balanced breakfast. What gives? At some points in our cycles, our bodies are capable of pushing harder, due to hormone fluctuations. At other times, it might really be better to take it easy. Charting your fitness routine with your cycle can help you to make the most of each day, without getting discouraged.
Literal and figurative flexibility are key to cultivating a workout regimen that grows with you and helps you achieve your goals. When you’re playing the long game, every day can be marked as a win.