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Last year was wild in a lot of ways, one of the more surprising of which, personally, is that I kept my New Year’s resolution. I concocted this plan a day or so into the new year, but from January 4, 2021 onward, I exercised to a short Pilates video every single weekday.

I went into this resolution with 1) the notion that I needed a goal to commit to exercise (in the past, it’s been finishing a road race or reaching a healthy number on the scale) and 2) the expectation that I wouldn’t make it the whole year.

Partway through the year, I started to see that I might, in fact, keep to my plan for 2021 and might even extend into 2022. I’d given myself a certain amount of flexibility, having used these videos before and been honest with myself about what worked.

For one thing, I could exercise any time of day. Mornings were usually best, but as long as I hit play before midnight, I counted it as a win (okay, one night I did hit it at 12:00 a.m., but it was a matter of seconds).

For another thing, I chose the routines the day of, whether it was one my program suggested or another that better fit my schedule and how my body was feeling. Sometimes it was close to twenty minutes long. More often, it was more like ten. Some days I didn’t complete workouts, but I did the majority of them, until I was interrupted by something else. Ask me how I know that the shortest video available in this particular program is just over four minutes.

Turning a resolution into a habit

I’ve written before about how using habit trackers (in my case, both a piece of paper and a pen and a digital calendar within my fitness app) provided me motivation throughout this journey. At times, I realized it was silly to care this much about a checkmark. But the other side of that was what that checkmark represented—a consistency I was proud of.

Sometime around June, I started wondering how I would reward myself if it made it to December 31. I have a history of treating myself in some way after achieving a fitness goal: run the race, wear the shirt, and so on. I quickly realized I didn’t want some fleeting moment of satisfaction. The kind of exercise I was doing was something I wanted to maintain after the ball dropped again: I had developed a habit I was looking forward to holding on to for many more years to come.

Cutting workout time in half

The workout that best fits into my life right now—and for the foreseeable future—is one that doesn’t require a change of clothes or a shower afterward. Breaking a sweat is a good thing, for sure. But when it doubles the amount of time committed required to get a workout in, it can become an obstacle to moving at all.

I also came to acknowledge what ten minutes of Pilates five days a week gave me and what it didn’t. My body doesn’t look a great deal different than it did 365 days ago, but I maintained flexibility, muscle tone, and the ability to move well. These are little things I know I’ll only become more grateful for as I get older (or that I would have wished I had later if I hadn’t started now!). Moderate exercise can also help with sleep, skin health, menstrual-cycle health, and so on. I’m in for all of it.

Consistency increases strength

Short, consistent workouts also give me the option to add another form of exercise to my routine when I want to, without breaking my stride. For instance, this summer I felt a pull to add more cardio to my fitness routine. Our family schedule allowed for a few morning runs each week. I attribute having no pain or pulled muscles when I returned to running after over a year away from it to the consistency of my Pilates. (This was not the case with my previous postpartum returns to exercise.) It felt so good to seamlessly get back to running—even though I’d been working toward it for the first half of the year without realizing it.

As the weather grew cold here in New Jersey, I switched from running to riding a desk bike in the afternoons. I’ve found the bike carries a lot of the same benefits as Pilates: I don’t have to change into workout gear (though sometimes I do), I need not get sweaty to get movement in, and since it’s nearly silent, I can do it just about any time of day. What’s more, I can make calls, read, and work on my computer (or shop!) while I’m pedaling. Multitasking can be overwhelming and counterproductive at times, but in this case, multitasking allows me to make space for real rest, which is also very important to overall health.

When good habits help those around me

Healthy living is contagious, and I’ve seen that this year with my kids joining me for Pilates workouts and my husband using the desk bike as much as, if not more than I do. We’ve always been a fairly active family, and continuing to hone what works for each of us benefits our household as a whole.

I’ve stopped trying to get every health benefit out of one form of exercise, and it’s helped me to appreciate how my body responds to different kinds of workouts, different types of food, various lengths of rest, and even various levels of stress. This knowledge of myself has unexpectedly led to a boost in self-confidence. I am more in tune with my body and better able to respond when life inevitably gets complicated.

When it does, you can find me in my room, app by my side, gratefully rolling out my mat.