What Does a Sustained Exercise Plan Give to Us?

us-3My emphasis this week is about our physical health. Although I believe emotional health to be the foundation for good health, I also know that my mental and physical health needs regular attention. I am including a post from another of my favorite bloggers. She and her husband are living in Spain and raising their two beautiful children by exposing them to many cultures. She is Christine Gilbert who writes AlmostFearless.

“Things Biking 8 Hours a Day Can Teach You”:

We left the bikes behind in Italy, but continued traveling overland. Our original trip idea was to bike from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, all the way across Europe. The busted trailer ended the biking part of that, but I have this idea that I want to see the Black Sea anyway. So we’ve been traveling overland, across Croatia to Belgrade, through Serbia to Timisoara. We’re in Romania now, getting ready to find an apartment in Sibiu or Brasov, so I can finish some writing work, then I want to take another train out to the sea and dip my toes in it. At that point, I will feel like the big Babies, Bikes and Baguettes tour will finally be done.

Yet, we’re not biking, so I’m finding myself thinking about all the things we learned from over two months of biking most of the day, albeit slowly, sometimes painfully (especially in my tush, wrists and lower back) and gloriously when the breeze hit us or we got a sudden patch of downhill or I felt inspired to push the pace and the endorphins caught up.

1. Tons of cardio will not cure ADHD. This was one thing we wanted to test this summer, my husband usually takes a large dose of Concerta for his ADHD but we’ve always wondered if we just ran his crazy out, if that would calm him down. Nope. I suspect the part of ADHD where it makes it hard to multitask, where your executive function is limited — that top down ability to self regulate and ignore distractions while focusing on a task — that’s the real crux of what makes ADHD so hard for adults. For example, I can sit down and write in a crowded and noisy space, suppressing the sounds going on around me and focusing on a task. My husband is so easily distracted that if he merely has an idea of something else he should be doing, he can’t focus. Unfortunately, exercise is not a cure-all.

2. Tons of cardio will totally cure mild anxiety and general malaise. I felt great all summer! My husband felt great!

3. Coffee and alcohol do the same thing as tons of cardio, but just with side effects. This was a surprise to me. I stopped drinking coffee, because I didn’t need it. Nothing wakes you up like biking for a few hours. Sweat a little. I stopped drinking alcohol because that feeling, like “oh I could use a glass of wine” disappeared. What I really craved was cold water. Lots and lots of water. The cardio woke me up, it made me feel energized all day and it made me tired at the end of the day. I actually passed out every night… something that never happens for me… but I would sit in the tent and not remember falling asleep. I would sleep straight through the night. Over time I even needed less sleep.

4. Cardio was great for big picture thinking, but less great for my writing. I spent hours thinking about what my next projects should be and I walked away from this summer with at least 2 years worth of plans. What I didn’t walk away with is a ton of new writing. My brain felt tired and full most of the time, happily buzzed, but sitting down and writing was a struggle. I couldn’t get into the space. It makes me think of those treadmill desks — now I think I would have a really hard time doing even light walking and writing at the same time, something switches in my brain and I can’t seem to do both at the same time.

5. It’s not the exercise I have been avoiding my whole life, it’s the hassle. Waking up in bike shorts and jumping on my bike was so easy. What I really dread is waking up, leaving a warm bed, finding my exercise clothes, changing, going to the place to do exercise, doing it, then getting undressed, showering, getting dressed. The exercise is only a little part, it’s the schlepping that I loathe. I think one possible solution is to stop making exercising into an event and just jump on a bike, in whatever I am wearing, and go for a ride! Or take a walk after dinner… no special running outfit required.

6. As soon as I stopped doing cardio, I slipped right back into my “coffee to wake up, wine to chill out” habits. I watched myself do it. I was thinking, “No don’t… eh… whatever”. Then I did it. I’m drinking coffee as I write this.

7. I eat healthier when I am exercising. I ate bananas for breakfast. I would eat a small crust of bread and some brie for a snack. Lentils for lunch. Some spaghetti for dinner. My tastes seemed to shift a bit to what would be the best fuel versus what would taste the best or slip me into a food coma.

8. And I eat way less, even though I was burning tons of calories. I think food is a self-medicating thing for me, but when I was doing so much cardio, I would hardly eat. It felt like an appetite suppressant.

9. I have come face to face with the reality that I have to exercise everyday. I need it. It’s just basic self-care. The thing that makes me feel differently about it is that I really found some joy in cardio this summer, so when I think about going for a run or a long bike ride, I think of it as this pleasurable experience. “Wouldn’t it feel great to go for a hike?” <– things I would never say before but totally would now.

10. It took me almost a month of forcing myself to bike to really get to the space where it felt fantastic. I mean I really pushed myself and suffered quite a bit. That’s a huge barrier to entry and the main reason I never stuck with any prior attempts. I remembered liking running in high school, but I lost that. I think you need periodic reminders of how strong your body is and what it feels like to ride the edge of your limits. Maybe that will be a bike trip every summer. Or some other adventure. Cardio isn’t THE thing I want to do with my life, but it is one of the things. For me, that’s a game changer.

So would I do it again? Absolutely. I think everyone, anyone — even if you don’t have any experience, like us — should jump on a bike and travel somewhere beautiful. It’s for sure the most accessible form of exercise… it’s easier than running, it’s low impact and once you have a bike, it can become a way to get from place to place. The fact that your bike can also carry all your stuff (in panniers) or your kids (in a bike trailer) and there are so many dedicated bike paths in the world, it’s an ideal way to see the countryside in many places (and especially Europe). We’re already discussing next summer’s plans and how we’ll add a kid’s bike in the mix for my son (he’ll be five). I never thought I’d be one of those outdoorsy types, but I’m happy to be changed. I admit it, I have been missing out. No longer.

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