Thursday, March 24, 2011

Veggie Might: Embracing the Asthma-thlete Within

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

About four years ago, I started working out regularly for the first time in my life. Since my childhood diagnosis, I’d used asthma as an excuse for never pushing myself to exercise. I began slowly by riding my bike to work. A year later, through a friend, I found an exercise class I liked. It met weekly, but required a monthly commitment, and I thought I can do this for a month. That month turned into a year, then two years, then a gym membership.

Riding my bicycle through New York City’s streets gave me a thrill like I’d never experienced. It was like being in a video game. My heart pounded as my legs pumped the pedals, whizzing past cars and buses. It was exhilarating. In the class, I discovered the outer limits of my endurance and a confidence I never knew existed. I pushed myself like never before.

In three years, 40 pounds had disappeared. The weight loss was so gradual that I barely noticed it—except that my clothes didn’t fit—because for the first time in my life, weight loss was not driving my endeavor. My primary concern was loving that person in the mirror and making sure she was healthy. My confidence was soaring.

What surprised me most was that I had done nothing about my diet. Not much needed to change, since I already ate a healthy, home-cooked, whole foods diet. I’ve always been a “5 small meals” eater, so I tend to eat smaller portions. I rarely denied myself the occasional indulgence or the occasional over-indulgence, and I still lost weight. I wasn’t counting calories beyond what I do for CHG. I merely added exercise to my life.

All was going well until I hit a roadblock last fall. As a freelancer, I hate saying no to work, and I found myself completely over-committed—for an entire month. First my social life went by the wayside. My friends understood, especially the ones with babies. Then cooking all but ceased. If it wasn’t going to be blogged about, it wasn’t getting made. Finally, the gym gave way. I still walked to the office every day, but my beloved 3-times-a-week exercise class fell by the wayside.

It’s only temporary, I told myself. But I knew me. I knew how hard it had been to establish that routine I was so proud of myself for maintaining.

Just as I feared, one month became two became four. I felt my energy level decrease, my asthma worsen, my clothes tighten, and the guilt build. Oh Heather, it’s so hard to break out of that shame spiral.

But I did it. Since the new year began, I’ve been back at the gym and my favorite class, walking more, and once the weather is nice, I will be back on my bike. I am lucky to have the support of my boyfriend and some very good friends who are on similar journeys. Now I know from experience I can get back on track and stay there. And if I slip, it’s okay. I’m a happy, healthy human who can have her Newman O’s and eat them too.

Find an exercise or activity you enjoy.
Anything that gets your body moving will do. Talk a walk. Throw a frisbee with someone. Dance around your living room if that suits you. Just do it a couple of times a week at first, and you’ll want to do more.  IntenSati is the mind-body cardio practice that got my body moving. Find what you love and get going. (Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.)

Slow and steady rules the day.
Whatever your fitness goals, slower is better. You’re more likely to keep weight off longer the slower you lose it. And don’t try to do everything at once. Start with exercise, and then incorporate dietary changes. Or build up to adding strength training into your routine. The longer you give yourself to adjust to the changes you’re making, the more likely they will become lasting changes.

Find a buddy (or three).
You may prefer to exercise alone, but it’s important to have a support system for the emotional part of getting and staying healthy. Not everyone wants to hear that you did 30 minutes on the elliptical this morning before work. So round up a couple of like-minded friends who do. You can be there to share each others triumphs and pitfalls. Connecting can be as simple as emailing a friend or joining an online message board. Spark People is a terrific online resource for health and fitness information, plus community support.

Your best is good enough.
Competition is at the core of many exercise and sports programs. But when you are trying to get healthy, for whatever reason, your best—right now—is good enough. If all you can do is walk to the corner and back, do that. Then do that twice a day, then three times. You get the idea. Eventually, you’ll be a triathlete if that’s your goal. In the immortal words of Senator Stuart Smalley, “You are good enough, smart enough, and doggonit, people, like me you.”

Gentle readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are your favorite ways to exercise? What do you do to snap out of a slump? The comments are yours.


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Michelle said...

I loved this post! It sounds like we have a similar background with asthma and exercise. I had asthma as a child and got into a habit of never even trying to be active. I could barely even finish a mile in high school. Now I have completed a marathon and I'm an avid runner and cyclist. I LOVE hearing similar stories to mine... I wish I would have figured out a long time ago that it was possible for me to overcome what I thought was an adversity, but it's never too late to figure it out!

TJ said...

Ditto on the asthma. As a child, I had it somewhat severe, so I never did any activities (parents' mandate). It was partly mental, if you ask me. Then in HS, I was so out of shape that I was having trouble breathing just by playing a simple softball game or running in baseball. Then college came, and no more excuses. I couldn't, if I wanted my grades (and I wanted them!), so running was the only class available on my schedule. And. I. LOVE. Running. I went from being worse than pathetic to one of the fastest in my class within those short 15wks. Then the semester ended, I continued to run, but not for very long, and a few years later, I'm going to the gym 3 times a week. It's cold and miserable outside, but I sure can't wait until the weather gives way! I'll be running the whole summer.

Jen said...

Great post! When I was a kid I really felt I could never be as fast/good as the other kids at I pretended to have asthma!! And it worked! I got out of the gym classes I hated. But into my adult years I realized that having a healthy body was a blessing I was going to have to work for. Now I run to and from work everyday- rain, sleet, snow, and shine, and it's fun! And luckily I'm married to a guy who values exercise - the support part, like you said, is an important aspect.

Grace said...

This is such an inspiring post! I don't have asthma, but I still wasn't really active as a kid (much to my father's disappointment). In high school, I tried out a boxing class and LOVED it. I continued to box for 3 years, until the gym unfortunately had to close, and I had to go off to college. Unfortunately I've kinda fallen back into that slump. I don't have the money for a gym membership, and haven't found a free activity that a like yet. Thanks for reminding me that every little step (even walking to class in NYC) counts!

Kristine said...

Great post! Finding something you like is key, and finding a reason to stick with it in the early stages! I signed up to do a half marathon to raise money for the arthritis society in 2007 - four years later I'm running 2 marathons this year, and training for my first triathlon. At the same time, I've lost (and kept off for a year next month!) over 100 pounds.

Being healthy is what matters - exercising to lose weight won't motivate you to stay with it once the weight is gone!

NB said...

I was walking around my campus and I saw a bulletin board with some great advice. If you wake up in the morning and you make it optional to go to the gym, then chances are, you're not going to go. If you wake up and treat the gym like a class, though, you definitely will go. That helped me schedule in a work-out routine so much! If you can discipline yourself enough to not hit snooze, then you're going to go to the gym and you're going to get fit. Then, when you start to feel the great effects of feeling toned and energetic, you'll WANT to go. :)

Carla said...

I LOVE intensati!!!! they recently added classes near me at the gym I belong to and its so wonderful... I am sad that i missed last week already and this wek isn't looking good either - have to try and get there tonight because I can't go 2 weeks with out it

chris said...

Thank you so much for mentioning SparkPeople! It, combined with this blog and a number of other sources on cooking and better eating, has been a driving force in the huge changes (for the better) that have been happening in my life over the last six months. I am losing weight, which is important at my size but more important is that I am a stronger, healthier, and happier member of the world.

Laura said...

Asthma here too. And I just love my Wii Fit Plus. So does my husband. It's the first time I've ever gotten him to exercise with me. I can actually see our stomachs getting flatter! The healthy diet and cooking from scratch probably help too...

Becky Smith Kuk said...

Great post! I totally agree with starting off slowly. I started exercising because I had just come back from a year long volunteer commitment in Central America in 2006, to New England in the middle of winter. I didn't have a job yet, and I needed something to do. I started running along the snowy streets and I loved it. I walked/ran a 2.5 mile loop, and eventually, I was able to close the walk gap and run the whole thing! Now I live in Baltimore, and I get the same exhilaration riding my bike in the city. Thanks for the encouragement!