How you know it's working

 Hiking and picking up volcanic rocks outside Reykjavík, Iceland, guided by Discover Iceland on vacation are some of the hidden payoffs of sticking to a wellness regimen that includes regular exercise. Sometimes results aren't so obvious if we're focusing on the scale 

Hiking and picking up volcanic rocks outside Reykjavík, Iceland, guided by Discover Iceland on vacation are some of the hidden payoffs of sticking to a wellness regimen that includes regular exercise. Sometimes results aren't so obvious if we're focusing on the scale 

It's ridiculous that after all these years I'm still fighting with myself at night to wash my face. I look at myself in the mirror as I'm brushing my teeth and think, what's the worst that could happen?

And then I clean my face, removing any makeup around my eyes, exfoliate, use toner, apply products my dermatologist prescribed for me and then serum and nighttime moisturizer on my face and neck. The whole thing takes too long, but there aren't any short cuts. I've tried.

The other night, as I was having this conversation with myself in the mirror, I noticed my skin was looking not bad. I've still got that lived-in look, but the lines in my forehead, in particular, were, without a doubt, less prominent. 

And then I remembered a yin yoga class I'd taken several years ago at Down Dog Yoga. It was a special candlelight workshop with a guest instructor. The room was cooler than most classes at Down Dog because for yin, where you hold poses more deeply and for longer periods of time, up to 5 minutes, you want to lower your body temperature, not raise it. The teacher would alternate between reading passages from a book during our long poses or telling a story or using stream of consciousness to help us push through the discomfort. What I was remembering as I was looking in the mirror the other evening was the comment she made about taking vitamins and supplements, particularly chondroitin and glucosamine.

"I don't know what they do," she said, "but when I run out and stop taking them, I notice it. I feel it." 

It's true. Like drinking half my body weight in water. I only recognize the benefits of being well-hydrated when I notice how much more fatigued I feel when I haven't had any water at all. You too, right?

People say if you truly want to lose weight you have to jump start the weight loss by eliminating carbs or by fasting or by severely restricting your calories. That way you'll see the results quickly and have incentive to stick to a weight loss plan. Yes I've done that. And put that weight back on twice as quickly as I lost it.

That's because I often don't notice the benefits or effects of actions I take until much later. Or after I stop taking those actions. I think that's one reason why I'm not the only person who's frustrated by making the same New Year's resolutions year after year. Everywhere I look there's a new article or blog post telling me I've got to go into the New Year with a bang.

This is the year you're going to get fit once and for all!

This is the year you're going to lose 20 pounds!

This is the year you're going to make a million dollars!

This is the year you're going to have great adventures, great sex, save the planet!

If we say this is the year we're going to make small changes, stick to the plan but not notice the results until weeks and maybe months...Well, you know, we're not going to make a New Year's resolution like that.

But we should. Because change happens when we're not looking. It took forever for me to understand that my body gets fit when I'm not exercising. It's when I'm resting, recovering, sleeping. That's when adaptation occurs and my muscles get leaner, my fat melts away. How many times have you committed to holding a plank for 30 seconds every single day for a week but gave up because you saw no improvement in your waistline in 7 days? Or went for a run 3 days in a row and thought, this isn't working, I haven't lost a pound, I'll stop eating instead. And we know how well that approach works.

When I first started this journey I wanted results in two weeks. I had a dress I wanted to wear to a special occasion. My trainer at the time, Reuel Tizabi, shook his head. You'll start to see results in 16 weeks, he told me. That's 4 months, I remember thinking, is he nuts?

That was in 2014. He was right, I did start to see results in 16 weeks, and here I am 4 years later, still getting them.

New ones.

As we approach 2018, here is what I know now.

  • Early on in my writing, a friend asked me to explain the difference between "wellness" and "health" or "fitness." I had told her I was focusing on wellness subjects in my writing, and she was being playfully ornery. I told her the way I see it, wellness is an intention to devise and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It's not specifically about what you eat or how often you exercise. It's about your commitment to how you want to live. Recently I was listening to a TEDTalk where Elizabeth Blackburn was talking about her groundbreaking research on what makes us age. In her talk, she made a side comment where she said it's not about increasing the length of your lifespan, it's about increasing the length of your health span. This is the time during our lifetime where we genuinely feel good. Directly tied to wellness, then, committing to daily exercise can help me lengthen my health span. It's a scientific fact.
  • I'm up and down with the same 5 pounds but I know what foods and the amount of exercise that work for me, and I stick with my plan one day at a time. That's the best I can do, because more than anything else, for me, it's about consistency. Have you ever told yourself, "today was a good day" or "today was not a good day"? I have. A lot. If I can focus on stringing together 1, 2, 3, etc., good days together that works for me.
  • When the editor of my book was pitching the title to her editorial board she asked me if I objected to moving the book's category from memoir to self-help. I said of course that was fine, but later I smiled a bit thinking about this. The phrase "self-help" is funny because, yes, I am working on myself, but I've learned to reach out to others for help. Because I have to. Maybe you can do this on your own, but I can't. Even if you've got everything else together in your life, you might need someone to help you with this. From day one, I used blogging, meaning you, to hold myself accountable. At first it was awkward and embarrassing to write about myself, but soon, sitting down and forcing myself to write about my exercise, nutrition, and results became incentive for me to stick with it every single day. If this appeals to you, and you don't want to start your own blog, let me know. I'm always looking for guest bloggers. I'll give you a page and you can write as often as you like. Remember you're doing this for yourself, and blogging, like journaling, is a powerful way of evaluating and re-evaluating your goals. And there are some fantastic online communities - such as RunnersConnect and Tina Muir's RunningForReal, too.
  • A colleague in my office just lost 20 pounds and told me she's never felt better. I asked her what she's been doing. "Just paying attention to what I'm eating and taking lots of Zumba classes!" she said. I love that. Discovering what it is about exercising that you truly enjoy can help you find your edge. It's a strategy, the same one we used with our kids when we'd add something healthy to their plate along with their favorite chicken nuggets. Because this is where we begin to see results, even if it's months (my colleague started in May). Find the joy first. Are you naturally good at Zumba? Yoga? Go for it two days a week, but commit to doing something you don't (yet) enjoy at least one other day of the week. Running can be good for everyone, especially for older women, even if it's hard and never seems to get easy. A skilled trainer or physical therapist can get anyone to a place where they can run or do some other form of high impact cardiovascular exercise, so important for our bone and heart health. It took me weeks (maybe months?) of strengthening the muscles around my knees, for example, but I got there. And cycling. I'll admit cycling is my least favorite mode of exercise, and that's because I am the worst at it. This year, my goal is to take at least one spin class a month. My sister-in-law Nicole sets the incline as high as it will go on her treadmill so when she's walking she's getting her heart rate up and working up a sweat. Figure out what works for you. Don't like the treadmill or the elliptical? I never did, either. I took a big mug of coffee with me to the gym when I first started working out in the morning. I have no idea why that helped get me there - I could have had coffee in my kitchen - but it did.
  • Finding out what worked best for my personality type helped me understand my "why." Especially if I fall off the wagon, which I do. Are you the kind of person who's motivated to exercise because you are high in negative emotions? Are you afraid if you don't exercise you'll die of heart disease? Or are you high in positive emotions and need to remind yourself how good you're going to feel after you workout because the fear tactic won't cut it with you (or me)? Taking a personality test will help. 
  • Tearing my hamstrings 3 weeks before my first marathon sucked, but did you know after the initial trauma the best thing we can do to rehab a hamstring tear is to exercise? I suffer little injuries all the time, but there's always some form of workaround, some form of exercise available to me. The last thing we want to do is stop for more than a few days. It's counter-intuitive, I know, so another reason to reach out for help. I do. Frequently.
  • When I first started exercising, I thought Nike's slogan "Just do it" was rude, and it bothered me. Now? I get it. On any given day I can come up with a million excuses not to do something even when I know it's good for me. It took me 4 years to get to the point where I view exercise as a gift, something to be grateful for. Even so, I'll come up with any reason not to attend a spin class. So I know. It's hard.

Like the wrinkles above my forehead, I'm in this for the long run. Not just for 2018, but for 2019 and 2020 and beyond. It's my slow and steady commitment to living in a healthy way. Because, yeah, there isn't anything more important going on in my life right now even if I can't see the payoff, the results, all sparkly and jumping out in front of me, this second. 

They're there, updating in the background.

Wishing you a fantastic New Year!! And thank you for reading and for your support. We are a community, and I am so grateful.

See you next time!