Written by Dina Zeckhausen Wednesday, February 08 2012
|Karen Anderson (left), Lucy Klausner,|
Jennifer Cooper and Dina Zeckhausen
True Confessions: I’m not the most self-disciplined person regarding exercise. Thanks to an active childhood I’ve been “fit enough” for much of my life, so losing weight has never been a big motivator. (While many folks exercise to lose weight, those who use this as their main motivation have difficulty sustaining these habits over the long haul.) My nod toward fitness generally consists of a daily mile-and-a-half dog-walk and an occasional dance class.
But a few years ago, my body was starting to feel the effects of aging, and the time seemed ripe to push myself, especially given that my professional role often includes helping people who struggle with their weight. If I was to encourage others to step out of their comfort zone, I’d need to walk the walk (or run the run)!
Around that time I encountered a unique group of fit women in their 30s and 40s. Interestingly, they all lived in the same neighborhood. This group supports the 2009 findings of Harvard Professor Nicholas Christakis who demonstrated that variables like weight and happiness were affected by social networks, e.g. overweight people tended to have overweight friends.
If you are neighbors of these fit women, you’re probably going to end up fit!
So I felt honored to be informally invited into the fit “club.” These gals set their alarms early. By 6 a.m. they are running around the park, returning in time to get their kids on the bus or get showered for work. Before joining this group, I never woke up that early except to catch a plane. All of a sudden I was hopping (well, rolling) out of my warm bed and venturing into the cold darkness for a run. More often than not I’d catch them on their “cool down,” meaning they’d already run five miles before they met up with me.
As excited as I was to be included, as a psychologist I was curious about what made these women so committed to exercise. I noticed they did a number of things that experts suggest:
- They mixed up their work-outs - running different routes, doing Saturday bike rides or meeting at the pool to swim laps.
- They signed up for events so that they were often in training which gave them each concrete goals.
- They used their work-out time to meet their social needs - chatting about their lives, their marriages and their kids.
- They gave and got lots of support - loaning each other equipment, sharing training tips and being generous with positive feedback.
In my profession I’m so accustomed to people sharing unfiltered thoughts, I forgot that the rest of the world doesn’t care to endure such negativity, especially at 6:30 a.m. One woman started calling me “Debbie Downer.” But what stopped my complaining for good was Lucy – who adheres to a strict “no whining” policy – stating matter-of-factly, “If it’s not fun, then don’t do it.”
It hit me that while I’m adept at helping others challenge their internal negative voices, I was quite over-indulgent with my own. I vowed to quit complaining, but it wasn’t just about muzzling Debbie Downer. The key was getting her re-focused. I started consciously connecting to the positive aspects of early morning exercise, adopting a more mindful and accepting approach.
- I focused on my breathing and my heartbeat and the rhythmic sounds of my feet on the pavement.
- I appreciated the stillness of the early morning as the world was waking up around me.
- I experienced the rush of being in the presence of other women.
- I congratulated myself for working toward an important goal.
- I encouraged myself up the hills and reminded myself of the downhill that followed.
- I looked forward to the reward of a great breakfast, which was only a few minutes away.
- I reminded myself that getting out of the envelopng warmth of bed was harder than staying in it and that instant gratification didn’t lead to the pride of accomplishment.
- I knew that the run would afford me a more relaxed, productive and happier day.
- I felt pleased that I was one run closer to being in better shape.
- I acknowledged with gratitude that I lived in a healthy body that was capable of running.
- I thanked the universe that I was simply alive.
So I did end up completing that first triathlon when I was 45 years old. I was joined by my 14-year-old son who begged to sign up for another one as soon as he crossed the finish line. I’m looking forward to this summer’s event, when I’ll be moving up to the 50-55 age group.
Look out, old ladies. I’ve got my head on straight this time, and my body’s sure to follow.
Check out these other stories about healthy living:
Flexatarian, Pescatarian, Partyologist
What's Age Got to do with it?
Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.