Once upon a time, exercise scared me. I’d find reasons not to do it: my knees were bad, I took forever to recover, I couldn’t because I was bleeding. Looking back on the litany of excuses, there is now an understanding of the true root cause. I was afraid. I would get out of breath so easily, people would stare at me, there was no real self-confidence anywhere to allow movement past the issues. However, in the last 14 months, all that has changed. It began with a phenomenal amount of just walking, alone, without focus on anything except myself. Inside that bubble, a lot of disparate thoughts finally began to make sense.
I understand now the set of circumstances that led to confidence evaporating. Some of it is my fault alone to shoulder, but others have their share of blame to take. Now all of that is settled, comes the process of understanding that if you work for long enough, pain can be managed and overcome. Exercise is its own reward, over time: without it, I’d not have been given the warning signs over my gallbladder until possibly it was too late. However, the overriding positive from making myself do something every day is now beginning to manifest. If you do intensive sessions in the gym or on the road, rest days are indeed vital. However, my body doesn’t work like that. I have one (reasonably) intense PT session for an hour a week, which is now supplemented by two more (of the same duration) where I focus on weight training. For all the other days, there is asthmatic cardio.
I can’t run continuously (as yet) and the most I’ve ever managed is a kilometre on the treadmill, for timing purposes. What happens right now is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) which is bursts of exercise where I push myself to breathlessness, followed by periods of recovery whilst still moving. This builds stamina, strength and allows my body to learn how to breathe properly, which is almost as important as the effort itself. It also allows me to work out if the things I am eating are being effectively converted into fuel or not, which has been quite the adventure after gallbladder removal. Before where I would have relied on quick carbohydrates for an energy burst, more and more it is about packing in more complex carbs before I workout, and supplementing protein rich foods afterwards to ensure muscles build and strengthen.
The biggest change of all has been the sweet cravings: yeah, they still exist, but the frequency and urgency of them has diminished significantly. Whereas before I’d get a need to snack early afternoon, after surgery and with daily exercise, this has simply evaporated. More significantly, the urge to buy ‘rubbish’ has yet to materialise, though I will admit the desire for bread and butter pudding is quite strong right now. That means, this weekend, I’ll attempt to make a version with granary bread and not white, with ingredients I put in and aren’t supplemented by pointless additives and preservatives. At least that way I know exactly what is going into my body.
Staying on the exercise wagon becomes easier with each day I do something: even if it is only 30 minutes of continuous exercise to get my heart rate up, the key is to make such effort habit-forming and then realise you don’t want to live without it. After that…? Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Wednesday’s ‘Pull’ day of weights: after a month off, I’m almost at the same benchmarks I left behind in May. I feel stronger in arms and trunk than has ever been the case before. Most significant of all however is how I feel afterwards: confident, happy and relaxed. Exercise makes me happy, not simply from the release of endorphins. I am stronger. This alone is worth any amount of effort and discomfort.
My body is a lumpy mess right now: mosquito bites, bruises from cycling, rolls of loose skin and fat that remains stubbornly immoveable. Once upon a time I would have cared about this but now, simply, it doesn’t matter. I have to move through this stage of being uncomfortable in my skin to get to the real goal. Physical appearance is irrelevant, all that matters are the repetitions and the goal, still tantalisingly out of reach but far closer than was ever the case last year. Then I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture, just a weight goal which would somehow make everything better. Now there’s an understanding that exercise doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to the finish line and BANG its all perfect, far from it. To truly understand the real value of fitness, it has to be lived and understood, one day at a time.
This is a journey I am only just beginning.