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Exercise: Personal stories

Helen M. is a 49-year-old woman who lives in Richmond, Virginia. She has followed a regular exercise program for almost two decades and told us a little bit about how she has integrated exercise into her life.

Can you describe your typical exercise routine?

My current routine is a 4-mile walk five days a week -- I walk weekday mornings and take the weekends off. I drive to a nearby track and walk laps, usually with a friend who meets me there. Sometimes I walk alone, wearing a headset radio.

How do you warm up? What do you wear?

I don't really do any formal warm-ups for walking. I suppose it's because walking is such an easy, everyday activity that I don't really need to do any special preparation. Likewise, I don't wear any special gear when I walk, other than good walking shoes and a baseball cap for sun protection. In the summer I might wear bike shorts with a long tank or T-shirt and in the winter, leggings with a knit shirt under a hooded, thin sweatshirt. In the winter I also add gloves when I need them and a headband to cover my ears, along with my baseball cap. I stretch when I'm done.

When did you begin to exercise regularly?

I started this general regimen 19 years ago, when my children were both in school and I had some time for myself. Each year there are some periods when I get "out of step" with my walking, such as family emergencies, vacations, or house guests. But I don't have much trouble getting back into it.

What helps you get going again?

I really hate to mess up my daily routine, so I always get back on schedule as soon as I can.

What motivates you to do it?

My initial motivation was weight loss. I hadn't been walking for long when my motivation shifted -- it became the way I feel after a good long walk. Also I decided that I had better take care of my body, because I hope to live a long time!

What keeps you going?

I miss not getting out, and I feel cheated when I miss my morning routine.

How do you overcome days when you just don't feel like exercising?

In the early days I would go out regardless of the weather, but now I do allow myself to miss very rainy or very cold and windy days. If I really just don't feel like doing it, I usually try to make myself go, as I know from experience that I feel better once I get started. Plus I have friends who are expecting to see me at the track (and will harass me if I don't show up!)

How do you fit regular exercise into your schedule?

Fortunately, I do not work outside of the home, so I don't have a tight schedule to work around. When I began my walking program, my kids were in school and I had those hours for myself.

What other exercise activities have you tried?

For a time I tried using a stationary bicycle, but I didn't really like cycling. I have also done some weight training and would like to get back into it. I really enjoyed that.

How did you devise a plan that you could stick to?

For years I kept a calendar on which I wrote how far I had walked and how long the walk took. If I missed a day I would put a big "X" on that day. I really hated to see an "X!"

How do you reward yourself for achieving your fitness goals?

Hmmm. Truthfully, the way I feel is my reward. It is personally satisfying to know that I have been faithfully exercising for so long.

Has your exercise plan caused you to change your diet? To lose weight?

A large part of my motivation to keep exercising is that the physical activity allows me to eat pretty much as I please. Initially I did lose weight, but I now just try to maintain. I believe that even though my weight isn't what I would really like it to be, my muscle tone is good and my clothes fit better.

What are some of the key benefits you feel you receive from regular exercise?

When I walk alone, I use the time to think through problems and make plans for things I need to do. When I walk with friends I enjoy the camaraderie. I am almost 50 and I believe that I am about as limber as I've ever been. I doubt that would be true if I didn't exercise. Ultimately, the best result of exercising regularly is probably mental stress relief. I also think that it has helped keep me physically healthier, as I have rarely had colds since I started my routine at age 30.

What tips or advice do you have for others?

Set reasonable goals and keep records of your progress. Allow yourself time off if you need it. Tell other people what you plan to do so they will ask you about it and you will be embarrassed if you don't follow through!

Remember: as you get older, you will be much happier with a strong, healthy body.


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Review Date: 6/28/2011
Reviewed By: Jeffrey Heit, MD, Internist with special emphasis on preventive health, fitness and nutrition, Philadelphia VA Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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