I recently posted an article called On Huge Lifestyle Changes, or My “Holy Hell, I’m Actually Doing This” Journey to Being Healthy because a) I love a long title and b) I wanted to document what I’ve been up to behind the scenes for the past few months. If you haven’t yet read that post, in summary: holy hell, I’m actually doing this… I’m actively trying to become a much healthier person, both in body and in mind.
As I’ve often joked about on this blog, I am an absolute hedonist. I have little (AKA not a shred of) willpower, and I can always find an excuse to eat something deep-fried or dipped in chocolate, lie on the couch instead of exercising, have that extra drink (or two), and so on. I swear my arm has never been twisted in my life. Pizza at 1am? Sure! A round of tequila shots? Already ordered them at the bar! Watching an entire series in one day, only getting up for bathroom breaks? Every weekend, my friend.
And while I believe that attitude served me somewhat well while travelling – I will always say yes to trying a new restaurant or heading to a local bar – it has caught up to me now that I’m spending more time in one place.
I didn’t like that I was out of breath after one minute of jogging. I didn’t like that I had zero muscle definition, or that my favourite clothing didn’t fit anymore. I didn’t like waking up every morning feeling tired, stiff, and cranky. I didn’t like constantly feeling unhappy for no goddamn reason. And no matter how hard I tried, I realized I was totally out of excuses; moving home to Canada meant that I had a lot more time and lot more money, so if I wasn’t going to do it now… when would I do it? I’m a relatively young, able-bodied person with time on her hands. Enough was enough.
Now, exactly 71 days into this “get healthy” journey, everything has changed: my body, yes, but even more importantly, my mindset.
In this particular blog post, I wanted to talk about the effect daily exercise and activity has had on me, and what I’ve been doing to stay motivated. Coming up next I’ll be talking about how I changed my eating habits, how I tackled my mental health, and what the results of all of this hard work has been.
Because, yes, it’s been very hard work. Changing nearly every single aspect of my lifestyle is something I’m working on for hours every day. One of the biggest changes I’ve made is the amount of physical activity I do every day, and how my body now craves it.
The thesis of this post? JUST START MOVING.
Introducing Exercise Into My Life
You guys, I cracked the code. Want to feel really healthy, better than you have in years? I know the secret. Are you ready? READY?
Exercise often and eat healthy food.
Yep. That’s it in a nutshell. How utterly boring, right? Boring but oh so very true.
I’m a researcher. I love googling things and reading as much as I can about a subject I’m interested in, and after reading countless articles on health and fitness, exercising often and eating healthy is the synopsis of every single article. It can get complicated and confusing and full of inaccuracies – “don’t do this exercise!” “you must follow this diet!” – but regular physical activity and eating well make up the basic mainframe of advice from every (legitimate) doctor, nutritionist, physical trainer, and health professional.
It sounds easy, of course, but if it were easy, we wouldn’t have such health problems related to inactivity as we do in much of North America and Europe.
What I quickly learned is that there are a gazillion and one apparent “experts” who will tell you to try this exercise, buy this course, sign up for this program, etc. Since I’ve been googling things like “what the hell is a goblet squat” and “why does my Fitbit count steps when I brush my teeth”, my phone knows I’m trying to be healthier. Because of that, I’m being bombarded with health and fitness ads on every platform I use, be it a search engine or social media.
And if you thought that travel “influencers” were bad, wait till you get a load of fitness and health “influencers”. As always, here’s where I say that some people are doing a lot of good, some people are actually legitimate, some people will truly motivate and inspire you, blah blah blah. But most of the time, it’s just someone with a really nice butt and hundreds of thousands of followers trying to tell me how to work out (and buy that detox tea). Which… that’s great for them, but I’d rather get my advice from a trained professional.
We all know about all the fad diets and fad workouts, how they’re all bullshit, and yet we often fall for them anyway. One of the biggest things I vowed regarding my health was to ignore all of them.
Exercise often and eat healthy. That’s my mantra. It’s totally fine to look to others for motivation and for technique – I regularly google exercise techniques and always search for a licensed personal trainer rather than trust Instagram’s algorithm to hopefully give me somebody legitimate – but I avoid most fitness “influencers” like the plague, especially when they seem to only promote one body type: young and extremely thin.
But how to start moving, when you haven’t really moved before?
I started small back in December, before I even knew I was going to dive headfirst into this in January. I began by upping my walks with Dottie to a solid 30 minutes, twice a day. No 20 minute walks because I felt lazy or cold. At the very least, I owed this to Dottie. She’s a healthy, active dog and at only two and a half years old, she has tons of energy to burn. That was my only goal at first: I had to walk for one hour a day. Please keep in mind that I work from home and I live alone, so this hour of walking was crucial; it’s not like I was walking around an office or running around with kids.
I started exercising back on January 5th. I swallowed my pride and went to a local gym, because you know what they say: getting there is half the battle. And fuck yeah, I was scared to walk into that gym for the first time, especially as it was my first co-ed gym. I simply picked up the phone and made an appointment for a tour that very same day. I couldn’t back out once my name was on someone’s calendar. Thankfully I had a really kind, encouraging person show me around the gym, and once I saw that yes, there are indeed people of all ages and capabilities working out, I felt better.
I started easy, using machines I was already comfortable with like the elliptical and a few of the weight machines that seemed simple enough. Sometimes I even just walked on the treadmill with a good podcast, because at least I was moving.
But doing all that cardio also gave me a great vantage point, as I was actually being a detective. As non-creepily as I could be (cue me making googly-eyes in the most creepy way possible)… I watched people. Yep. That sounds fucking weird. But for the first week of going to the gym, I didn’t step foot in the weights section: I was too intimidated. I didn’t want to go to a machine or a rack of free weights and look like I didn’t know what I was doing, even though I didn’t know what I was doing, and that’s OK. My gym is awesome and the staff are amazing, so I could have asked any of them, but I chose to be a big weirdo lurker and watch people instead.
And then I just got the fucking courage to try it. And wouldn’t you know… it wasn’t so bad at all.
Part of the reason I had been hesitant to work out before was because I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to look stupid or inexperienced. Being at a co-ed gym for the first time exacerbated that for me, as I had never worked out alongside men before.
But I realized one very magical thing: nobody fucking cares. Everyone is in their own world (except perhaps for a few creeps like me who are just getting used to things and checking out the situation, but they quickly move on, too). I realized something else: everyone is super nice and friendly. Every single conversation I’ve had at the gym has been fun, and I’ve even asked for help from a few people (how to use a machine, for example).
Once I got over those fears, I felt like the sky was the limit. It’s easier said than done, I know, but trust me: nobody will think you’re stupid. All I see when I go to the gym is a bunch of people trying to be healthy. My fears that I’d be judged were just that: fears. They weren’t reality.
And just in case I needed to drive that point home: in the past two weeks, three different people have asked me about an exercise I was doing and asked if I could show them how to do it. ME! The person who didn’t know what the fuck she was doing two months ago! It seriously just took me getting over myself and trying it for people to now think I know what I’m doing. I have also made gym friends. Gym friends! Like, gym friends that are morphing into real-life friends because we’re going for drinks!
Another things that has helped is that I’m always researching a ton of exercises I can do, and how to properly execute them both at the gym and at home. Although I absolutely love the gym – I don’t mind paying $60 a month if it means I have access to all of that equipment and space – there are also a lot of things I do at home that help me stay active.
I’d like to state here and now that absolutely nothing in this post is sponsored, so I’m linking to stuff that I found on my own and actually really love. Please note, however, that I have a few affiliate links in this post.
Without a doubt, the most useful website I’ve found for exercises is Women’s Health Mag (though the exercises are for anyone, regardless of gender). Why I love them is because they have pages dedicated to one particular type of exercise or body part – kettlebell exercises, for example, or exercises specifically for your shoulders or abs – and they include gifs of said exercises including detailed instructions and benefits. You can seriously search any body part or exercise and they’ll have tons of articles dedicated to it. The pages I use most often for reference are:
Secondly, I use an app called Workout for Women (the icon is hot pink with a white W), though again, these exercises are for anyone. It’s great for short but effective workouts, and they include links to videos on technique. It’s really fast-paced, with only 10-second breaks between exercises, but it really helped in that first month in terms of teaching me effective exercises I can do anywhere, something I’ll need when I travel. And really, I couldn’t find an excuse not to work out for seven minutes. I mean, c’mon. I do their 20-minute advanced legs and butt program regularly and it kicks my ass (pun intended).
Through these articles and this app, I now have a great idea of what I enjoy doing and proper form. That means I can put together my own workouts and constantly keep things interesting; I’m always learning new things to do with dumbbells, for example. It’s a learning process, and I love it.
I’ve also gone through six weeks of Couch to 5K, which I feel quite proud of. This is a great app for those who have no experience running but want to give it a try, although I’d recommend researching running techniques beforehand. Running is by far the exercise that gives me the most amount of trouble as it can occasionally hurt my knees and I’m worried about shin splints, so I do it sparingly.
But back to that January 5th. When I finished my workout, perhaps 30 minutes on the elliptical at a moderate pace and a few weight machines, I told myself I had to come back tomorrow. And on the 6th, I said the same thing. I just kept telling myself, “I have to come back tomorrow,” even if, as I said, it just meant walking on the treadmill for a bit.
And once I made it to a week, I just kept going. Already after that one week, I could feel my energy levels increasing and my confidence growing. Some days I worked out really, really hard, implementing all of that research by spending an hour and a half with free weights, and some days (my rest days), I just did some light cardio or stretching. But still, I vowed that I had to be active every single day.
Since January 5th, I have only missed one day of activity (I was incredibly hungover. It happens). Every other day, I’ve either been at the gym, done a home workout, gone for an hour and a half walk, or, when I was recently in Arizona, played an hour of pickleball or basketball with my dad.
And of course, I’ve noticed huge changes in my energy. I’ll talk about that in the upcoming results posts, including all the other benefits I’ve seen and felt. But somewhere along the way, perhaps about three weeks in… I fell in love with it. I fell in love with going to the gym, and discovering new workouts, and doing things at my own pace. I imagine once the summer arrives and I can spend more time outdoors, I’ll discover new things to do – local trails, sports in the park, bike rides, and so on. It only took three weeks of moving daily for my body and mind to start to crave it.
People always say that you have to find workouts that you enjoy, or else you won’t do them. I totally agree. For me, I’m still discovering these things; just yesterday I tried a new kettlebell workout that left me in a pool of sweat, but I felt amazing afterward. If you don’t want to run, don’t run. If you don’t want to use free weights, don’t use free weights. The second you feel like the activity you’re doing is a chore, you’ll be able to talk yourself out of doing it. There are a million ways you can move and be active, so there’s no point in locking yourself into an activity you dread.
Just being active, no matter what you’re doing, is an achievement. I will say, however, that strength training has now become the bulk (no pun intended) of my workout time. According to my Fitbit, I burn just as many or even more calories with weights and strength training than with cardio exercises like running or the elliptical. Not only that, I’ve seen incredible results in terms of toning my body. I feel stronger and healthier than I ever have, and I credit that to strength training. Weight training also helps with your metabolism, bone strength, and a host of other things, so if you’re nervous about strength training, I’d urge you to give it a try.
Strength training is also incredibly easy to do at home (think squats, push ups, lunges, planks, and so on), so no need to go to the gym if you don’t want to, don’t have time to, or don’t want to spend the money on a membership. When in doubt, there are thousands of free work outs you can follow along to on YouTube (I’m a fan of HASfit and Popsugar, but there are tons of great ones online). All you really need is a mat, but a carpet will do.
All of this being said… I just started moving. I began with walking and that blossomed into wanting to do more. Realizing I prefer working out on my own – strength training, where I compete against myself – rather than on a sports team, for example, was also crucial in my journey to understand what kind of activity I enjoy. For you, maybe it’s yoga, or swimming, or kickboxing. If I lived in a province that had a hill other than the garbage dump (true story #prairielife) I would love to go hiking in the warmer months. I know I’m going to try new activities once the weather warms up, because I think it’s always good to test everything out and keep your body guessing. And who knows? I might find another activity I love just as much as strength training.
What Does My Fitness and Activity Look Like Today?
Over the past two and a half months, my energy has increased so much that 60 minutes of walking no longer does it for me. Neither does a slow 20 minutes on the elliptical and 10 minutes haphazardly lifting weights, which is what my old workouts used to consist of (if I ever got to them). Now I understand that I need to push myself, and that I love pushing myself. It is recommended that the average healthy adult gets at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. In the past, I’d rarely get my heart rate up or break a sweat. These days, everything has changed.
Just like in the last post, I want to emphasize that not everyone is going to have the time to do what I do; I remind you that I work from home, make my own hours, and live alone, so time isn’t really an issue for me. I understand what a privilege that is. I also realize I might not always be able to keep this pace up, especially in the summer or when travelling, but for now it’s working for me. This is also a friendly reminder that I am NOT a doctor, physical trainer, or health professional in any way, and I am not necessarily recommending this routine for anyone. It’s simply what I do, and as I’ve been transparent with pretty much every other aspect of my life, why not my workout habits?
While I still go for at least an hour walk with Dottie every day, I also go to the gym every day. On average, I spend two hours there. I mix it up every single day, so that I’m never repeating exercises back to back. While strength training and weight lifting makes up most of my time there (usually 90 minutes), I make sure to focus on cardio at least three or four days a week as well (mainly the elliptical, because it doesn’t hurt my knees). I also make sure to give certain muscle groups rest days; I wouldn’t work out my arms two days in a row, for example. Once or twice a week, I take a rest day, where I don’t do any strength training at all but focus on stretching, walking on the treadmill, or light cycling on the stationary bike.
I also make sure to spend around ten minutes stretching before and after each workout; so far I haven’t had any injuries, because I stop as soon as I feel any pain. I’m also very mindful of proper form and making sure that all of my strength training is comprised of very slow, deliberate movements. I want to feel better from exercise, not worse.
So, as you can see, I went from maybe doing 45 minutes of walking in December to now having around 150-180 minutes of activity per day what with walking Dottie and going to the gym. It’s been hard work, but I’ve become addicted to it. I love seeing my progress and love competing with myself. I also feel incredible, so there’s that.
And yes, it’s a ton of exercise, but my diet has also changed considerably (more on that in the next post). It was really important to me to make sure to eat as much as I needed to with all of this extra activity.
In the future, I’d like to incorporate more yoga and pilates into my workout routines, and hopefully start adding a few classes (I’m still scared! I know, I know). I’m considering looking into beginner kickboxing or even taking a tennis lesson or two to mix things up and keep surprising my body.
How Do I Stay Motivated to Exercise?
That’s the question a few people messaged me about. I get it, and it’s why no other exercise or work out program I’ve tried in the past has worked for me. It can be incredibly difficult to stay motivated when you feel too busy or tired to be active, when the couch or bed is so much more appealing.
Here’s what worked for me to stay motivated:
I bought a Fitbit Charge 3. I hate that a piece of technology I wear on my wrist had such a huge impact in my life, but holy shit, this changed everything. I don’t just track steps, I track my active minutes in a day (minutes of moderate to high exercise), how many hours I sleep, the calories I burn, my heart rate, and so on. While it auto-recognizes most exercises like walking, jogging, and the elliptical, I can also set it so that it knows when I’m lifting weights, playing sports, and so on.
Basically, this thing made me compete with myself in the best way possible. Oh, I did 14,000 steps yesterday? I can do 15,000 today. I did 82 active minutes on Thursday? I can go for 90 on Friday. It’s extremely satisfying to open up the app on my phone and see all of my goals turn green for the day, and since purchasing it I have not gone one day (save the hangover day) without walking at least 10,000 steps and being active for at least 45 minutes.
I bought new workout clothes.
You might see a pattern here, but I’ll admit that it took purchasing a few things for me to take this more seriously. I bought new runners and a ton of workout leggings and tops that I think are actually kind of cute, so I get excited to wear them. That sounds ridiculous, I know, but fashion is a huge part of my life and so it makes sense that it would translate into working out. It makes a world of difference to put on a new outfit you feel kind of cute in vs. a baggy old t-shirt you keep meaning to throw out.
I wanted workout tights that were high-waisted, breathable, and moved well with my body. Without a doubt, I’ve found that Nike tights check all the boxes for me. It was also extremely important to me to have good running shoes, and Nike also came through in that regard. I personally have one pair that I use when running and one pair that I use for strength training (shoes made specifically for running sometimes have too much cushion in them for strength training, as your balance can be thrown off doing weighted squats or lunges).
And while Nike is by far my favourite brand to wear, I’ve found tons of amazing deals on cheap workout clothes at places like Walmart, Winners, and Marshalls. I’ve become one of those people who wears “athleisure” every day, but fuck it, it’s super comfortable and it makes me work out more if I’m already dressed for it, so who cares.
Another purchase I love? I bought a running belt to wear while at the gym. Most women’s workout tights don’t have great pockets, so I was annoyed at having to lug my phone around everywhere or tuck it into my sweaty sports bra. This running belt made it so I never have to think about my phone while I work out.
Finally, when I travel, I will be taking my resistance bands with me; they’re excellent for quick workouts at home, too. One like this is also amazing for full-body workouts (tons of resistance band workouts on YouTube).
I made friends at the gym.
While you won’t find me grunting alongside all the super-buff dudes powerlifting in the corner (yet), I made a point of always having a little chat with the staff at the front desk. I told one woman that I’m trying to work out every day, so whenever I see her she comments on how impressed she is with my motivation, which is of course a fantastic feeling. There are also a few other regulars I’ve started saying hi to, and each of them motivates me to keep coming back. If they’re going, I can go, too.
Again, I was really freaked out about talking to people at the gym, but everyone is super nice. Just don’t interrupt someone’s workout… I’ve only talked to people by the water fountain, when we’re stretching, or in between sets.
My next step is smiling at cute guys. A super foxy guy smiled at ME the other day just as I was wiping sweat from my brow and I was so flustered I can’t remember if I smiled back. Either way, I then couldn’t focus for my entire workout and just kept wondering how I could magically need to use the machine next to him – every machine – for the next hour. Judge me if you must.
I found a gym I loved.
If you are indeed going to the gym, make sure it’s a gym you love. I was at a gym called Shapes for an entire year and hated it, so I assumed I’d hate all gyms. Not at all. I realized that what I hated about Shapes – the staff ignored me/was rude to me, everything seemed dingy, the space felt really dark, I felt there weren’t enough machines in the women’s section – I could find elsewhere, and I did.
Bottom line: take advantage of that free trial before signing up so that you don’t commit to something you’re not 100% sure about. If you’re thinking about switching gyms, mention that: I got a month free at my new gym because of it.
I started listening to podcasts and created workout playlists.
I very quickly realized that music played a huge role in motivating me to work out. I would notice that, when a song that had a particularly good beat came on, my body would react and I’d get a new wave of energy. For me, that means cheesy 90s pop songs (I’ll play entire albums by the Spice Girls), grunge playlists (Ten by Pearl Jam is a workout favourite), weird dance songs that I wouldn’t even know the name of (thank you, Spotify, for knowing just when I need that extra kick), and RuPaul. Oh yes. Play Sissy That Walk while you’re speed walking and I swear you’ll feel like you’re on a catwalk (that video also includes two of my favourite queens ever, Bianca Del Rio and Adore Delano).
Similarly, I love listening to podcasts at the gym. I also made a rule for myself that I can ONLY listen to podcasts while I’m working out or walking, so that’s motivation for me if I’m eagerly awaiting a new episode. My favourites include True Crime Obsessed, Dr. Death, Dirty John, Serial, Broken Harts, and The Rewatchables.
Finally, I just started listening to audiobooks. I figured it was a great way to merge my love of words and my new love of working out. Right now I’m listening to Becoming by Michelle Obama, because I figured it would be amazing to hear her read her own words.
I set realistic goals.
When I started this journey, I didn’t say, “I want to lose 40 pounds,” or “I want to run a marathon.” Those aren’t realistic goals for me. And while I truly believe in setting goals for yourself – I set travel goals every year – I didn’t want to set a goal that was so out there that I’d feel awful when I didn’t even come close to it.
Instead, I set realistic, achievable goals. Things like:
-going to the gym/doing a home workout at least three times a week
-being able to run 1.6km without stopping (the 1600m run was a test we had to do in high school, and I was never able to do it without stopping to walk)
-fitting into a beloved pair of jeans again
Ultimately, however, I have only one goal for myself. I simply want to be healthier. I want to feel better and healthier above all else; above all vanity, above all numbers on a scale. I quickly realized I should stop weighing myself often, stop referencing wildly inaccurate reflections of health like BMI, and focus instead on how I feel. That extra energy I have? That better sleep? That added strength, endurance, and flexibility? That attitude shift? None of that is going to register on a scale.
On my deathbed, I’m not going to look back and think, “Wow, I sure am glad I had a nice butt and weighed ____ pounds.” No, I’d rather look back and think, “I sure am glad I had the energy and the health to do everything I wanted to do in life.”
Coming up next: how I changed my eating habits, how I focused on my mental health, and the results from everything I’ve been working on.
Do you consider yourself an active person? What motivates you to stay active?