How I Finally Found an Exercise Routine that I Can Stick With

Let me preface this post by saying — I am not a fitness guru, coach or gym junkie. My primary health focus and passion is on diet, so for me exercise is just a necessary part of the total health package that must be done. Overall health actually consists of 80% diet to 20% physical activity, so I don’t feel too terribly guilty for not being a fitness nut. I actually, until very recently, hated exercise. Specifically cardio exercise, which I actually still don’t care for, but I’ve found a way to outwit my disdain for it!

About this time last year I bought a lightweight elliptical to keep in the basement family room and use throughout the winter months when it’s cold outside, because if it’s below 60 degrees then you won’t catch me outdoors! I also have issues with my right knee after falling on the ice when I was in middle school. I tore cartilage in my knee, which has since healed, but I still can’t do any high impact cardio or strength training without it giving me issues. So the elliptical serves a double purpose in that it’s no-impact on my knees and I can use it to supplement walking.

I thought that having the elliptical in the basement where I could just hop on for 20 minutes while watching TV would make it a breeze. What I found is that I actually got bored on it, even while watching TV, and started to dread it. Which ultimately led to me slacking off on using it, until I stopped altogether. I also have a naturally high metabolism, which eliminates that sense of urgency for me to work out. So I’m not just a slacker…I’m guiltlessly slacking off!

That’s something I really wanted to change with my post-Christmas reset. Not only did I want to get in some cardio because I spend my work days sedentary at a desk, I also wanted to add in some strength and flexibility work just to feel stronger overall. I wanted to not only have a cardio routine, but also come up with something for abs, upper body, lower body, and yoga.

I already had an ab routine from a few years ago that I could pick back up on a more regular basis, so I was set with that. I’d also done yoga before, so I just needed to refresh myself on some poses and put together a flow. For upper body, I needed to find some exercises that I liked and put together a circuit for myself. Lucky for me my favorite YouTuber, Kalyn Nicholson, shared her upper body workout on her channel right when I was needing one for myself. I ended up adapting most of her workout for myself. So then I just needed to find a lower body workout.

popFor that one, I needed to be more specific than just watching a video and saying “okay, I’ll do that!” For the same reason I had to buy an elliptical, I had to get creative with my lower body workout — my knee. I can’t do lunges or squats, because after just a couple of days my knee gets inflamed and I have to stop. Someone had suggested to me in the past that I try resistance band exercises, so I started doing some searching for lower body workouts using a resistance band. There were still plenty that used lunges and squats, but I was able to put together a combination of resistance band exercises from several different sources and create a workout for myself that had no impact on my knee.

I had workouts lined up for all areas that I wanted to work on, so the final step was coming up with a schedule. The most important thing for me was making sure I don’t get bored, because I get bored easily with repetition (I’m one of those rare breeds that loves change) and that weighs heavily on my reasons for abandoning workout routines. I ended up coming up with something that has served me well for the last month and I haven’t gotten bored with. I’ve noticed obvious changes in my strength already, and I’ve been able to stick to it consistently without skipping or missing days.

Here is what I’m doing

I decided rather than designating specific days for each workout, I would set a goal for how many times per week to do each one. So for me it looks like this:

  • Cardio (20 minutes on the elliptical or a 2-mile walk) 3 x per week
  • Yoga 4 x per week
  • Abs 4 x per week
  • Upper body 2 x per week
  • Lower body 2 x per week

With these goals set, I’m able to put together a different workout set for each day to prevent repetition and boredom. I also give myself one day off per week — Wednesday, which is my boys’ religion class and my grocery shopping night. I then set up a spreadsheet using Google Sheets so I would have a visual to set up my workouts for the week. When I finish my workout for the evening, I go in and fill that cell with a green color. If I only do part of it (that only happened once, and it was because I got busy cleaning and running errands after the elliptical and forgot all about yoga), then I fill it with pink. Then I have a red-orange fill if I miss it completely, which I haven’t yet needed to use.

Here is what it looks like:


So you can see I’m not doing a constant loop of the same workout, and so far this has kept from getting bored or burned out. There was still the issue of getting bored with the elliptical, however, and I’m happy to report that I’ve found a way around it! Watching TV wasn’t doing it for me, so I found something that did. Do you know how you can get on your phone, browsing social media, shopping, etc., and just loose all track of time doing these totally mindless activities? Well that’s become the magical solution to my elliptical boredom!

Let’s face it – single mom life is busy life! I feel like I’m constantly running around or busy, especially when I’m at home, so I don’t ever spend a significant amount of time doing those things (okay, except for ThredUP browsing, let’s be honest). I’ll get on Instagram or Facebook, check my notifications, and maybe do a quick scroll for a few minutes, then I’m off again. Well my elliptical has a display with a lip that perfectly fits a cell phone at a good eye level.

One day I set the time on my phone for 20 minutes, plopped it down on the display, and got to “jogging”. After a few minutes I was already bored and counting down the minutes until I was done. My phone was sitting there, staring up at me with its black, locked screen. And I thought you know what, I wonder what’s new on ThredUP! So as I was jogging away on the elliptical, I unlocked my phone, opened ThredUP, and started scrolling through new items. All of a sudden my timer was going off and I’m going “what?! I’m done?! Holy cow I didn’t even realize that much time had passed!”

Since then I’ve decided to make elliptical time the time for me to browse Instagram or Facebook, read articles or blog posts, shop for things I need on Amazon, or browse ThredUP for outfits. Today I used that time to edit a photo for Instagram of a pizza recipe I tried for lunch, and got it posted. By the time I was done, my timer was going off and it was time to get off of the elliptical. The time passes so quickly that I barely even notice it. As another plus, I actually end up working up more of a sweat and logging a faster pace, because my body is moving away without me mentally thinking “ugh, is it over yet?” I guess mindless scrolling isn’t always a bad thing!

With this plan in place, I’m not only sticking to my workouts, but I’m finding that I actually enjoy them. This is honestly the first time in my life that I’ve been able to say that, and I’m confident that 2019 is the year that I will be able to make fitness a permanent part of my life!

If you have some fitness goals to tackle, I would love to hear from you! What do you hate about working out? What do you love? Maybe we can work to inspire each other 🙂


How Yoga is Helping Me Find Tension in My Body and Rehab My Sleep

Immediately after Christmas, I went into reset mode. Between New Year’s Eve 2017 and New Year’s Eve 2018, I lost a total of 13 pounds (If you’re curious how I gained those pounds in the first place, see last year’s post “My Healthy Body Update and a Warning About Depo Provera”). Throughout the Christmas season I was determined not to put weight back on after I’d come so far, and I’m happy to report that I was successful in keeping it off! With that said, although I didn’t overindulge in sweets and junk, I was eating some amount of sweets every day and it started to show a bit in my lower belly. Which is why the very second Christmas was over I decided to reset my body and get back into a healthy mindset.

One of my goals for 2019 was to finally establish a fitness routine that works for me (the woman with a bad knee and a relentless Charlie horse in my right foot), and that included yoga. I’d done yoga before, about three to four years ago, when beach body first came out with a program. They had a free three week trial period, which I did…but when the trial came to an end I was disappointed to find that the three week program was all they had for yoga. So if I had paid for a subscription I would’ve been paying to simply repeat the exact same beginner program I had just completed in a never-ending loop. For obvious reasons, I chose not to do that.

I went out on my own, looking mostly to YouTube, for yoga poses and flows that I liked, but I never found anything that quite kept me on track and ended up leaving yoga behind me. Fast forward to now, and I found a couple of apps on my Roku that had some yoga poses and flows. I went through some of this to develop a beginner flow of my own. I now have that flow memorized, so I can just do it, and don’t need to follow along with any videos. As I progress I will look up more poses and flows to change and add to what I have.

Another goal I have for 2019 is to get my sleep in order. I honestly thought this would be a much bigger struggle than it has been. I was relying far too much on sleep aid. I would take none throughout the week, but because I wanted to be able to sleep in on the weekends, rather than waking up at 5am like I so habitually tend to do, I would take something to sleep on Friday and Saturday nights. And even then, although I might sleep past 6am, I would still feel like my brain was in a fog from the sleep meds. I wanted to stop relying on sleep aid altogether, even on weekends.

When I set this goal, I listed out some bullet points for how to accomplish it. No more sleep aid. Meditation. No phone for the last 30 minutes before sleep. Epsom salt baths. And finally, on weekends no getting out of bed before 7am no matter what time I wake up. Basically I have to retrain my internal clock to get out of the habit of laying in bed awake for an hour past bedtime, and to stop waking up an hour or more early. Insomniacs can appreciate the predicament–I was getting it at both ends of the insomnia stick.

Now then, here is what I’ve discovered, and how I’ve managed to make so much headway on the sleep conundrum in just a couple of weeks’ time.

With the yoga and meditation, came a realization. I was tense. All the time. The thing about yoga and meditation is that they force you to pay attention to your body and notice all of the little things that are going on. While scanning down from head to toe, I realized places that I hold tension. Beyond the obvious tensing/raising of the shoulders, I was squinting my eyes and eybrows (hello there, unnecessary forehead lines forming before their time). I was tensing my cheeks around my mouth. I was tensing my hips and lower back, as well as my neck. I was even tensing my tongue!

Yoga has forced me to relax and stretch a lot of these areas, and meditation has caused me to start noticing tension in these areas throughout the day. I’ll be sitting at work and suddenly realize my shoulders are scrunched up, or that I’m squinting at my computer, or that my lips are pursed and my cheeks are tensed around my mouth and my tongue is tensed down both sides and forced against the roof of my mouth. I’m able to catch myself doing it, which means I’m able to make myself relax. I can’t believe how many times per day I catch it. I think I unknowingly trained these muscles to tense during the difficult, stressful times of 2018. I’m confident that I will be able to untrain them and get “relaxed” to be their natural state again.

I’m also using Epsom salt baths more frequently, about three times per week, which encourages muscle relaxation as well as detoxifying the body. I always believed that my issues with insomnia were based on an overactive mind. And while that is one factor, it was far from the only one. As I began noticing the tension throughout my body and working to correct it and loosen those muscles, my sleep also began to improve. My entire body, not just my mind, was stuck in a state of tension that was negatively impacting my sleep.

At first, last week, my body started relaxing into sleep before 10, but a new issue arose to take its place–I was waking up several times throughout the night. It was like I was falling asleep okay, but I wasn’t falling into a deep sleep and was waking constantly. But instead of getting frustrated and giving up because it wasn’t working immediately (which is something my stubborn self totally would’ve done once upon a time), I chose to be patient and consistent, and give my body and mind time to adjust. The wakefulness lasted a few days before subsiding and easing me into a healthy cycle.

Now, instead of going to bed at 9 because I know it will take at least an hour to fall asleep, I’m going to bed at 9:30 because it’s taking half an hour or less. Reading before bed has helped to distract my brain from incessant thoughts, which means it’s wandering much less at bedtime. Stopping the early waking has been a bit more of a challenge, but I seem to finally be making some headway with that as well. Last week I still woke up early four times, including Saturday and Sunday. I woke up at 5am on Saturday, and although I stayed in bed until 7am, I never fell back asleep.

On Sunday, I again woke up at 5am. This time, however, I was able to make myself fall back asleep within the hour and woke up at 8 feeling very well-rested. I think part of it was because I had awakened so early on Saturday, and then had a full day complete with workouts, that I was too tired to stay awake. Another part of it, however, is that I was able to keep my mind from running away with me. Every time I would start thinking about everything I was going to do that day, I stopped myself and enacted some meditation to clear my mind. And then I borrowed a tip that I learned from Mel Robbins via her Mindset Reset program, and visualized myself comfortably asleep. Miraculously, I drifted off again.

I have not awakened early one single time since that night! Every night so far this week I have not only been asleep by 10 (I know this because I have a white noise app that I set for 30 minutes and I’m always asleep before it shuts off), but I have been awakened every morning by my alarm at 6am, just like I’m supposed to! This is the first week in at least a year that I’ve had more than one day where I felt well-rested and alert at work. I have felt fantastic every single day, and it has made such a massive improvement on my mood and my mindset. It’s also helping me keep to my workout goals, because I’m not dragging myself through the door in the evenings with the thought “I’m just too tired to do anything else today.” I’m bursting with energy all day long and it feels GREAT!

It is really incredible how much of a life changer getting good sleep is. I feel like any and all things are possible, if they begin after a good night’s sleep!

How are all of you coming so far on your 2019 goals? I wish you the best in all that you’re working for, and I would love to hear from you!



Go for a Walk

Happy Halloween week! If you’re here in the Midwest, then you had a beautiful start to the week. Sunshine, warm air, pretty leaves…the perfect walking weather!

I have a confession: I HATE EXERCISE!

Really, I despise it so much! But, I love to hike. I love to be outdoors, and if I think of myself as going on a hike or taking a walk, it doesn’t sound like exercise and I thoroughly enjoy it. That’s what I’ve been doing the last few days–going for walks, and enjoying the beautiful weather before winter swoops in and steals the show.

My mom was in town last weekend and my boys and I got to spend some time with her. On Sunday, she wanted to go for a walk somewhere. Our first instinct was the family farm, but we go out there all the time and I was feeling like something new. I suggested the trail around Community Lake in my hometown. It’s about 3.5 miles long, and currently dotted heavily with sunny yellow Maple trees. The wind was blowing fiercely off the lake, and the gravel trail had a fresh layer of fallen leaves.

Just being outdoors alone can work wonders on your mood, and for me that is escalated by any place that is near the water. But when you’re physically moving too, even just taking a casual stroll down a paved path, you are getting the endorphin release that comes with exercise, burning some calories, increasing your heart rate, and lifting your mood. It’s pretty well-documented that exercise can improve your mood, and it’s one of the primary recommendations by doctors for patients with anxiety or depression as well. But it is my personal opinion that getting in a little exercise outdoors does things for us mentally that going to a gym could never accomplish.

Something about being engulfed by the rustle of leaves, the wind whipping against my skin, the smell of the damp earth rising up to meet my nose, and the warmth of the sun against my face is everything I need to forget that I am “exercising” and just be present in the moment. My wandering mind comes into focus. I feel a sense of joy watching my kids climb and jump and explore. Nothing quite compares to a long hike in the Fall!

We’re lucky enough to live a few blocks from the local bike and walking trail, and the boys spend time on it most every day, even when it’s cloudy and cold. I’m more of a fair-weathered friend, and you won’t catch me outside when it drops below 60 degrees. But Monday was another sunny, beautiful day, so I made a quick run to the store and an equally quick Fall dinner–tomato soup and grilled cheese–then hit the trail with my boys before heading out to grab a glass of wine or two with friends.

This time I went without my fitbit, and I didn’t turn on my Nike run app. I had no interest in how many steps I was taking or how many miles I was clocking. I wanted only to walk and take in my surroundings, without technology or the outside world to intrude. Sometimes a good technology break, paired with a long walk and some healthy food (okay, so grilled cheese is maybe not entirely healthy…but I did make it with some homemade pumpernickel rye from the farmer’s market!), plus a little socializing live and in person, are just what a person needs!

I walked around six miles over those two days, and walked a little more down by the river tonight. It was 75 degrees on the second-to-last day of October, and it’s a Tuesday, so we had to get in a trip to the river. You could definitely tell a front was on its way in, because the wind was blowing something fierce. The water was as choppy as I’ve ever seen it, and I had to wear sunglasses to read just protect my eyes from the wind.

The boys went for a walk along the river wall while I read a biography about Robin Williams, then I walked down to get them, adding around another mile to my weekly tally. Seven miles in three days, and an achy calf muscle to remind me that I was accomplishing my goals. Tomorrow is Halloween, so we could get some more walking in for Trick-or-Treat, but it’s supposed to rain all day long so I’m not sure what will happen. If there isn’t a break in the rain tomorrow night we will probably be hitting up a couple of trunk-or-treats at some of the churches in town.

The rest of the week will probably be pretty chilly, so I’m already making a mental note to spend some time on my elliptical in the basement on Thursday. It’s no walk in the park, but it’ll suffice to keep me on task if the air is chill and damp. Something on my self-care list that I’ve been procrastinating heavily on is exercise. I don’t enjoy…it at all. It’s like a special kind of self-torture to me, but one that I know is necessary, especially with the winter months coming up ensuring minimal movement from under my blanket on the living room chair. So I’m getting myself to do it by whatever means necessary, even if that means disguising it as just a walk outdoors.

If you’re a fellow hater of exercise like me, I hope you’ll convince yourself to get up and go. Lace up your shoes, step outside, and just start walking. You’ll feel so much better after you do. Have a happy Halloween!