fitness

MIA FREEDMAN: How I have exercised (almost) every day for decades.

When I tell you I exercise every day - even Christmas, even my birthday, even Sundays, do you want to punch me in the face?

Yeah, same.

That's why I rarely tell anyone because to some people's ears it sounds like: 'I'm better than someone who exercises less than me'.

I'm not.

I exercise because I have to. It's a way to manage my anxiety specifically and my mental health more generally.

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And for a long, long time, years before I was diagnosed with anxiety and learned that exercise can be helpful in treating it, I exercised most days. 

I realise now that I was subconsciously treating a condition I didn't even know I had.

There are so many feeeelings that we entangle with exercise, as women. Guilt and shame and self-judgement and dread.

All whisked through the body image soup in which we marinate.

There have been times in my life when I've felt tortured by exercise. Am I doing it often enough? For long enough? Am I doing the right type? Should I invest in a trainer? Go to a boot camp? Join a gym? Should I do what she's doing?

It can feel fraught and like you're failing before you start.

My daily exercise doesn't make me feel anything anymore, though. It's something I do not even think about ever.

And that's my trick - if there is one. I don't think about it. I just do it. Not in a Nike YOU GO GIRL way.

It's simply... non-negotiable.

By doing it every day, I have perversely set myself free.

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Exercise holds no emotional weight for me anymore.

I think about exercise about as much as you probably think about brushing your teeth - very briefly before and during. And with about the same amount of emotion.

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I know what you're thinking and I agree. Everyone is motivated in different ways.

Some people need external motivators like a trainer or accountability to a boot camp.

Some people need variety. Others like to add a social component, preferring to walk with a friend or do a group sport.

I find those things make me feel claustrophobic and trapped. Plus, I'm anti-social. I like to exercise alone.

For me, the hack has always been to remove as much mental and logistical friction as possible between me and exercise. And here are the three ways I do that:

1. Same Sweat, Different Day

For many years, I have exercised on cardio machines at home. This started when I had my first child, 24 years ago. I learned quickly that I couldn't rely on my husband being at home to take care of the baby when I had the opportunity to exercise (during nap time, for example) so I wanted to find a way to do it that didn't depend on anyone else.

That's one less variable. Tick.

I also wanted to free up the part of my brain that had to decide what type of exercise I was going to do because that felt like work to me.

Another less variable. Tick.

Depending on where I've lived and how much space I've had, I've used either a treadmill or an elliptical trainer. Right now I have both and each day, I do 30-40 minutes on them (10/10/10/10) depending on how much time I have. 

Afterwards, when I have time, I'll do 5-15 mins of pilates (abs or arms) from a membership I pay $16 a month for and which has loads of different mini workouts depending on what you want to focus on. That after bit comes down to how much time I have. The cardio is non-negotiable.

Image: Supplied. 

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2. Remove All Friction

For me, friction means possible loopholes I can use to wriggle out of exercise. Removing them means a higher chance of success so I eliminate friction in a few different ways.

Working out at home means I save time by not having to travel anywhere. And I never have to worry about how I look because nobody sees me. 

I have exercised in undies and a sports bra and trainers many times. Also pyjamas and a sports bra. Can't find my leggings? No matter. Yet more layers of friction eliminated.

Also, being indoors means I don't need sunscreen and I'm unaffected by the weather. It's never too hot, cold or wet to exercise.

3. Lock It In, Eddie.

Here's what's exhausting. 

Negotiating with yourself about will I/won't I workout today? And then feeling guilty if you don't. 

The guilt is more draining than any exercise ever will be. 

Also: if you wait until you feel like it or until all the planets are aligned... it's not going to happen very often. 

Instead, decide on the days you're going to exercise, lock them in and then forget about it.

One last thing - I always try to think about how I feel after I exercise and that's what I chase. That feeling. Not the mythical prospect of someone else's abs or looking good in activewear. That may be someone else's motivation but for me, that stuff is toxic and demotivating.

This is what exercise is to me:

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Image: Supplied. 

This story first appeared in Mia Freedman's On My Mind newsletter. You can subscribe here. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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