Voices: On Fitness, Health, and Wellness
Here's the second installment of my new monthly series, Voices. If you missed last month’s, you can read it here with the brief.
This month, I picked my best girlfriends’ brains on fitness, health, and wellness—always relevant topics, and especially now when resolutions and routines maybe start to slow down. Hope you find something that resonates with you. Happy reading!
*Disclaimer: Apart from B, who is a Registered Dietitian, none of my girlfriends are, nor claim to be, professionals or experts in these areas. This is meant only to share several, hopefully relatable, female perspectives on a relevant topic. Please consult your doctor(s)/specialists on matters pertaining to your personal fitness/health/wellness.
describe your fitness/health/wellness journey. were you always fit/healthy/into wellness? are you now? what caused the change (if any)? are there any changes as you get older?
B: I’ve always been interested in fitness and health. My parents really showed me that eating well and being active are not only good for me, but are also fun and fulfilling. My dad was very active and athletic, and my mom was extremely focused on eating healthy and whole foods. Every time I ate something new, she’d tell me why it was good for me, which led to my career in nutrition. As I got older and studied nutrition and health, I learned about how complicated health and wellness really are. Now I try to stay away from fads and trends so that I can focus on maintaining long-term benefits. To me health and wellness are fun, interesting, and really my day-to-day life at this point.
L: Growing up, I was always very active. If I wasn't playing team sports, then I was riding my bike, rollerblading, or playing outside with friends. Growing up in Minnesota kind of automatically makes you some sort of an "outdoorsy" person. Things went downhill a bit once I went to college. Now, I enjoy attending fitness classes to exercise and socialize. But I go through phases from one extreme to the next. I will work out every day for two to three months, but then will go five months doing nothing. This applies to my diet as well. Moral of the story is that what works for some people might not work for others. I've learned to accept that I cannot live a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle all the time. The key to living a healthy lifestyle is by doing what makes you happy (granted, as long as your doctor doesn't tell you that you have any critical health issues that need attention). If pasta and desserts make you happy, then indulge!
G: I hate exercise. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! I was never into exercise growing up. I played a lot of sports in high school which kept me in great physical shape. Since then, I haven't been consistently active for long periods of time, but I enjoy being active and having exercise being a result of me being active. As I get older, I can feel my body slowing down—my metabolism is slow and I get tired quickly. However, my diet has always been healthy, so I've been able to maintain a healthy lifestyle in that sense.
K: While I played soccer throughout middle and high school, I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a fit person. I did start running at the start of my professional, real-world journey, however, this was quite sporadic and came and went in phases. It wasn't until I hit 25 and got diagnosed with hypothyroidism, that I took fitness, health, and my personal wellness seriously. It became more of a habit to keep my body moving in order to avoid the perils of a sedentary lifestyle (caused by work). Like most young adults, I thought I was invincible, but I learned that the body and the mind change with age. My metabolism stopped working as soon as I turned 25 (hence the thyroiditis diagnosis) and I felt a lot more tired than other mid-twenty year-olds.
what is your current fitness routine? what are your favorite fitness activities?
B: Two of my favorite sports are rock climbing and distance running. I also enjoy yoga, tennis, and hiking, and wish I had more time to do them all! I like to run 2-3 times a week for about 30 minutes. Since it’s so cold outside, I’m stuck on the treadmill, but once the weather warms up again, I’ll be so happy to run out by the river or reservoir and enjoy the sights. I usually rock climb 2 times a week for 1-2 hours a day. I love it because it requires all of your focus. It’s also a huge stress reliever for me since it takes my mind off work and other daily tasks. I also lift weights 1-2 times a week for an hour because it improves my performance and prevents injuries while I’m doing the sports I enjoy so much.
L: Currently, I am doing 30 minutes of moderate to intense cardio 3 days a week and lifting 3-4 days a week at the gym in my apartment building. I get ideas for my workouts from Pinterest or from when I played sports growing up. As mentioned, I absolutely love fitness classes, more specifically step aerobic classes. Yes, I am a 55 year old woman. I also love Celine Dion and Oprah (legit sobbed during her last episode). Step classes are great because they get my heart rate up and burn a ton of calories.
G: I hate exercise for the sake of exercise. I prefer to hike, practice Krav Maga, swim, or walk when possible. I haven't made exercise a priority in my life, but I walk everywhere on weekends in the city. On average, I walk 4-6 hours on any given Saturday. I also walked 20-30 minutes to and from work. I started taking Krav Maga three times a week after work a few months before I started traveling. Loved it! I plan to continue that once I get back.
K: I get bored very easily doing the same thing, so I love attending the boot camp classes/MISS/HIIT classes that are offered at my gym. I also try to incorporate cardio (running) into my workouts and have recently started weight training.
what are your fitness essentials?
B: I love fitness gear. I’m definitely not one of those fashionable lululemon or Athleta women in the gym though. Fitness clothes wear out fast and need to be replaced regularly, so I can’t afford to be styling. What I do invest in is my gear. Climbing gear is unfortunately not cheap, but if you get good quality and take care of it, it’ll last years. And running shoes! Good running shoes really do make a difference and keep me from a lot of unnecessary aches and pains.
L: I used to wear my Fitbit but stopped wearing it because it broke. I am just starting to use the Moov Now, which is another fitness tracker, but it connects to your headphones via Bluetooth and acts as a coach by correcting your form and encouraging you throughout your workout. Occasionally, I will splurge on some lululemon gear because I absolutely love their leggings and Ta Ta Tamer bra. I also have a pair of Nike shorts that I wear all the time. Asics running shoes/cross trainers all the way, hands down.
G: Gym clothes. I need boxing gloves and a crotch guard for Krav Maga. I have a yoga mat where I can do exercises, but like I said, I hate exercise for the sake of exercise, so it just sits in my room.
K: No real essentials besides the basic breathable workout clothes and some great running and weight training sneakers.
what is a fitness/health/wellness ‘trend’ you’ve bought into or that interests you? what’s one you’ll pass on?
B: I usually avoid health trends or fads since I try to stick to long-term hobbies and goals. I’d say the one trend I’ve gotten into would be hot yoga. I’m not sure if it’s really a trend anymore, but I do remember a few years back when it was the hip thing to do. I personally enjoy it because I find it more physically challenging and I guess I also like to sweat! The trends I absolutely pass on every time would have to be any diet fads. Those are definitely something that I avoid and tell my patients to avoid as well.
L: Love SoulCycle but never stuck with it. I can do away with that flying yoga stuff. Anti-gravity yoga, is it? I have always wanted to try, and KNOW that I will love, Orange Theory, but I am poor.
G: I'm a fan of Barre Workouts, which are ballet exercises. It's really hard and my whole body is shaking the whole time I do it. It's probably the only exercise I will do for the sake of exercise, but it's really expensive to do.
K: Haven't bought into any trends, but I find myself reading more about intermittent fasting since it seems to have scientific backing.
what differences (if any) do you notice when you work out versus when you don’t?
B: Honestly, if I don’t work out regularly, my body and mind feel so off-balance. I have more trouble sleeping, I’m more stressed, and I don’t feel as accomplished on a daily basis. When I do run, climb, or go to yoga, I usually just think of it as “me time.” When I’m being active, I don’t even refer to it as working out. It’s just me taking care of my mind, body, and...would it be too cheesy if I said soul?
L: Definitely feel more confident when I work out. I also experience less lower back or hip pain when I am physically active. I cannot say that I have more energy, because I typically work out in the mornings and as a result, get less sleep than when I am not hitting the gym. I am a koala and need to spend 75% of my day sleeping in order to feel energized.
G: I have low energy when I don't work out. I get tired really fast.
K: Overall, I just feel healthier. I feel a little more mentally relaxed, and exercising also gets my mental juices flowing. I've found myself thinking of how to tackle work/personal problems while running or just having really good processing time while I am working out. When I don't work out, not only is it a physical slowdown, but also a mental one.
what motivates you to be fit/healthy/well? how do you sustain motivation?
B: My motivation is how I feel when I’m being active and healthy. I can truly feel the difference when I’m taking care of myself, and that difference is always positivity. I’ve had times in the past when I’ve lost motivation, when school or work took over my life. What’s helped me the most is that a large part of my social life and hobbies include physical activities. At the rock climbing gym, I have regular climbing partners that I look forward to catching up with and trying new climbing routes with. I also get especially motivated when one of my hobbies includes training for a specific event, like a marathon. That’s months of motivation right there! Trying to achieve a specific goal. It’s sometimes one of these more than the others, but I think it’s really a combination of all of these factors that keeps me motivated to be fit and healthy.
L: Sometimes I get to a point where I have let myself go just a little too much. I usually become motivated to work out/eat healthy when I see myself getting chunky. I will typically find an event (wedding, bridal/baby shower, family reunion, etc.) to use as a source of motivation to get me to the gym and stop eating junk food. That being said, my motivation is not sustainable, and honestly, I fall off within a couple of months or so.
G: Nothing. I have yet to adopt exercise as a daily habit. Working on it.
K: The thyroid problem for one, and to keep being able to fit into my clothes as a second. It is very difficult to keep buying a whole new wardrobe every time I gain weight. However, appearance aside, the mental health aspect also keeps me motivated.
what is challenging for you about fitness/health/wellness? how do you overcome those challenges?
B: I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 10 years old. Most of my friends have no idea because for some reason, I’m worried that talking about my physical challenges will just give me excuses. When I was going into middle school, a spinal surgeon told my family I was borderline for needing surgery. I did not want the surgery, and though we were all worried for years that we made the wrong decision, I’m still grateful that my parents took my feelings into account. It’s taken many years just to find the right treatment regimen, but since then, I’ve been able to pursue all the sports and activities that make me happy. I would not let my scoliosis stop me from being like everyone else, and now I don’t think anyone can even tell that I’ve struggled, and to some degree still struggle, with my spinal problems.
L: Staying motivated to lose weight for more than 2-3 months at a time is very challenging for me. Perhaps this will change when I have a wedding to prepare for.
G: I hate exercise! It's so boring. Shopping was a big reason I even attempted to exercise when I did, but I've recently adopted a minimalist lifestyle, so now exercise is zero. I have yet to overcome this challenge.
K: Two challenges—to be able to consistently carve out time after a full day of work and commuting, and to not be bored with my workouts. I make a conscious effort to leave work early if there is a class I particularly like and I make sure to try different things/types of workouts.
what has been your proudest achievement in terms of fitness/health/wellness?
B: Can I tell you two? I still remember the first time I climbed a 5.9 rated route outdoors. It was starting to rain and I was with a group of climbers much stronger and more experienced than I was. The very top of the 30 meter route had a huge crack and overhang where I needed to somehow pull my entire body weight through and over a good 4 meters of the gaping rock wall. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make it and we had to get out before the ropes got too wet. Maybe it was the pressure, or maybe I was more prepared than I thought, but I did not give up and I made it! Another one I’d have to say was my first half marathon. When I was a kid, I hated running because it was very difficult and painful for me, and it was one of the things in gym class that made it obvious I had some physical challenges. Since then I’ve made it a point to like running, and I kept practicing until I really did learn to love it. So the fact that I was able to run and thoroughly enjoy my first half was a huge accomplishment for me.
L: My proudest achievement in terms of fitness was running a half marathon in Philadelphia a few years ago. I would say my proudest health achievement would be surviving the Master Cleanse Lemonade Diet for 10 days.
G: When I gained 20 pounds in two months literally binge eating (I feel like the word literally no longer means literally, but in this situation it does) in India. I was proud that I didn't care how large my body was and is. I have doubled in clothing size, but I'm still in my healthy weight range, and I still feel good in my body.
K: Losing the 15-18 pounds I had gained due to the hypothyroidism and having a slight appearance of muscle!
what are your fitness/health/wellness goals (if any) for 2018? how do you plan to achieve them?
B: This year I’m hoping to run my second half marathon in under 2 hours. I’m planning to start training earlier to give me some wiggle room just in case. Another goal of mine, which is a little embarrassing, is that I want to conquer pull-ups. I’ve never been able to do unassisted pull-ups, which my climbing friends still don’t believe me about since I haven’t met any other climbers who aren’t pull-up champs. I started practicing my pull-ups with the help of resistance bands. I’ve also been trying to do upper-body weight training once a week to help build overall strength. We’ll see how it goes!
L: My goal for 2018 is to lose 20 pounds and drop 2 pant sizes. A part of me thinks this is unrealistic, but I have a certain goal in mind for how I want to look on my wedding day (not sure when that will be since we just got engaged). No idea how I will drop the 20 pounds, but it will probably entail daily trips to the gym in my building (maybe even 2 times a day), cutting out sugar and carbs at some point, and drinking green juices or shakes as meal replacements.
G: Go back to my pre-traveling BMI. While I'm not a vegetarian, my diet tends to be mostly vegetables and fruits. Apart from this year of traveling around the world, I don't eat butter, sugar, or dairy (minus drunk pizza), or drink soda. Any meat I can consume is lean or raw fish. Once I am back in my routine of NYC life, I will naturally shed all the weight because my calorie intake will decrease significantly. Also, I want to further my practice of deep-sea diving, for which I need to be in good physical shape to be able to control my breathing and buoyancy.
K: For now, I would like to get back to my 2016 fitness level as I had to take a break from the gym after I injured my back (while lifting too many weights). I'm trying to motivate myself again in order to be a more consistent gym-goer.
what advice would you give to others navigating their own fitness/health/wellness journeys?
B: I would have to say just that, it’s a journey. It’s going to have ups and downs, times when you’re excelling and times when you’re hurting. But you have to keep at it because your fitness/health/wellness is growing and changing just like you are. In addition to that, listen to your body! I need to be better at taking this advice too. If your body says you need to rest and recover, do it. If your body needs more hydration, water yourself! If you are low-energy, check your diet and activity levels to see what’s missing. If you are feeling weak or unbalanced from only doing one type of activity, switch it up. I’m also just going to end with love yourself. That’s the key to all my wellness. I’m here to take care of myself because only I can do that 24/7 and only I know what I really need.
L: See your doctor for your annual physical and your annual OB/GYN appointment. S/he will be able to address any major health concerns and guide your wellness journey. Also, find a group of friends, coworkers, and/or family members with whom you can chat freely about your journey. This will help hold you accountable for your actions and keep you on track.
G: Find a workout buddy. That's the only thing that will get my lazy ass to a gym.
K: Think of it as a journey—one step at a time helps take the pressure off and makes it a more mentally stable experience. This will also help you understand what you like/don't like about exercising so that you can try different workouts.