Category Archives: Exercise

Cure for a Bad Mood: A Change of Perspective

Something amazing happened on Memorial Day.

I woke up in the worst mood ever. I felt depressed and confused about pretty much everything and I almost cried through my morning walk. I got home and sat on the couch staring at the wall for a half hour or so because I couldn’t seem to bring myself to do anything else. I didn’t feel like writing, making art, reading a book, eating breakfast, or even taking a shower. The sunshine and birdsong outside didn’t even cheer me like it usually does.

It was a scary feeling because I was questioning pretty much everything. I had a good cry on the couch and then somehow fell asleep even though I’d just gotten up from a full night’s sleep less than two hours earlier.

When I woke up 45 minutes later, I felt amazing.

I didn’t notice at first, the but bad feeling was completely gone. All the confusion was gone even though nothing had gotten much clearer; it just didn’t seem as scary any more. I knew things would work out.

I made myself some breakfast, got dressed, wrote for awhile, spent some time with Sam, then walked down to the park to lay on the grass and read a book until it was time to leave for our hike.

We hiked up a canyon trail with our friends Kyle and Destinee, I don’t remember what it was called, but it was beautiful. I love hiking so much. It’s exhilarating without hammering my knees like running does, and nothing makes me feel alive like being out in nature. I climbed up to a little cliff to sit and look down the canyon at Utah Lake. Destinee didn’t climb up with us and the boys climbed a little higher, so I got to sit by myself for a few minutes before climbing up with them.

As I sat with my toes dangling over the drop-off, I wondered how I had felt to awful just a few hours ago when I felt so happy then on the cliff. Nothing else in my life had changed but me. I’ll never underestimate the power of a nap again. It’s just a shift in perspective.

I had a great memorial day. We had a great time on the hike and then we went to a cemetery to put flowers on the graves that didn’t have any.

The moral of the story: Indulgent nap+fun hike with friends+putting flowers on graves=cure for a crappy mood.

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Limiting Ideas, Intuitive Eating, and the Gym

First of all, check out this funny gym picture:

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I love how everyone is smiling. I don’t know about you, but my gym looks a whole lot different 🙂

Several months ago, I posted a piece I wrote in college about why I hate the gym. I meant every word. Yesterday though, Sam and I decided to get a gym membership at our local fitness center, which is actually a really nice facility with really reasonable prices.

I usually can’t stand exercise machines because I feel like a hamster on a wheel. I don’t like “artificial” feeling exercise. I’d much rather walk or run outside, do yoga, go for a bike ride, or go hiking.

It’s kinda hard to keep that up in the winter though.

I resisted the idea for awhile. The main reason was that it seemed silly to pay to exercise when I have a few perfectly good workout dvds at home, a yoga mat, and walking shoes. The other reason is that the gym didn’t fit with my idea of living as an intuitive eater/exerciser. It liked it to counting calories and measuring portions rather than listening to what my body needs.

Over the past few months though, I’ve realized that there’s no one way to live intuitively. For some people, this looks like a daily walk and three square meals a day. For others, it’s a gym membership and nibbling all day without set meals. Others may eliminate certain foods from their diet for health reasons. Some might use calories or measuring as a way to gain consciousness of their eating before they’re comfortable to fly on their own. For me, intuitive living is different at different times of year. During the summer, it’s little meals and snacks all day long and lots of walking with a little running and yoga thrown in. During the winter though, I’ve realized that I need something different. I’ve had to change my ideas about my lifestyle, which I was surprised to find were a little rigid despite flexibility being the whole point of intuitive eating.

Here are a few reasons why I no longer hate the gym and why I feel it’s necessary right now:

  • My body has been asking for more intense exercise than I’ve been giving it lately, and though I can bundle up and walk in the cold or do one of the exercise DVD’s that I have memorized, but it gets old. The gym has lots of different options like classes, the pool, plenty of machines, a track, free weights, and sports if for some reason I decided to experiment with that.
  • My knees have been hurting like they always do when I start sitting at a desk for most of the day. I really don’t have a low to no impact cardio option at home, but at the gym I have the pool, a stationary bike, or an elliptical. Any of those are a great way to build strength without taxing my knees further.
  • Sam and I barely see each other with both of us working weird hours and him going to school. He’s been wanting to exercise, so this might be a way to spend some time together in a healthier way than going to Buffalo Wild Wings at 9pm.
  • I’ve been wanting to build a little muscle because I have very little upper body strength (I can’t even do one full-on push up. Not even close.) and I’ve noticed that my abs are feeling a little weak as well. I could certainly do this with yoga or just with old school body weight exercises at home, but I hate the body weight exercises, I don’t really push myself with yoga at home, and I’d rather  do gentler yoga at home. The gym does have a Saturday yoga class I could go to, but weights offer a lot more variety and they’re faster. I even had fun even though years ago I likened the weight room to a torture chamber.
  • This might be a better way to blow off stress after work than munching. I don’t tend to be hungry in the evenings, but I often snack when I get home just because I feel like I should because it’s dinner time or something, and also because I usually feel spun out. Going to the gym after work a few days a week might help me regulate work stress and eating a little better as well as giving me an energy boost, because I tend to come home and crash until bedtime. Sometimes I paint in the evenings, but I’m a morning person and I do most of my artmaking in the morning before I leave. Going to the gym won’t give me more time for my art, but my body needs it. I could use a little more energy to push through these last few weeks of winter.

Flexibility isn’t about rebellion or avoiding things that you think don’t fit in your flexible lifestyle. It’s about adjusting your ideas according to what your body and spirit actually need. Rethink some of your limiting ideas such as “intuitive eaters don’t go to the gym” or “artists don’t worry about what they eat.” Yes, these are kind of silly ideas, but our subconscious can hold a death grip on silly things like these. Pay attention to your limiting thoughts. We all have them. Examine them. Question them. Are they serving you, or do you need something different right now? Do you need rest, or would a short trip to the gym make you feel amazing?

There are no rules, only consciousness, caring, and a little humility.

Are you hanging on to any limiting ideas?

Winter Solstice and Winter Self-Care

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Although it’s been freezing and frosty for weeks, today is the first official day of winter, or the day the Winter Solstice occurs. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are the furthest we’ll ever  be from the sun, that life-giving source of heat and light.  Today, the gradual shortening of the days ends and many cultures around the world celebrate rebirth. Today is the shortest and darkest day of the year, and time seems to stand still as nature lies dormant. The trees have shed their leaves, the sap has frozen, the birds have migrated. All is silent.

I was going to create a painting to celebrate this special day, but my spirit and body seems to have aligned with nature because I too have slowed down. I’m ok with this, because I think it’s what my body needs.

My big goal with winter and winter blues this year is to make peace, while giving my body and spirit the best support I can. Dark days are hard for me. I’ve been fatigued and melancholy lately. Not depressed, just less enthusiastic.

I’ve also been reading all I can about the effects of winter on the body and spirit.  Though it seemed a little “woo woo” at first, I’ve really come to understand the concept of yin and yang, the two complementary energies that govern the universe. Yin is slow, cool, wet, feminine energy while yang is fast, hot, dry, masculine energy. Winter is yin, while summer is yang. These two energies exist within us and we feel better when they’re balanced. Makes sense.

Today is the slowest, most yin day of the year.  During the winter, we have very little yang energy to spare and quite a bit of yin energy. This can look like we have no energy, but yin energy is just slower and more  contemplative.

In the winter, we can balance these energies by building and conserving what yang we have, and releasing excess yin. Do yin exercise, like restorative yoga and walking while avoiding strenuous yang activity like running and aerobics. Eat yang foods (warming spices like ginger, garlic, cayenne, cinnamon and tumeric) and avoid cold yin foods like cucumbers, lettuce, and mango (i.e. “summery” foods).

This concept was galvanized for me yesterday when I felt kinda bla and attempted my favorite exercise DVD, hoping to gain some energy. I made it about ten minutes in before feeling like I was going to keel over. However, I was all warmed up for a walk, so I bundled up and took a stroll around the block instead. It felt great, then I for a yummy, yang-building lunch I had eggs scrambled with onions, tumeric and garlic salt.

So instead of burning yang energy that you don’t have today, try slowing down. Trade your kickboxing class for some gentle yoga, have a spicy stir-fry for dinner, and enjoy a quiet evening rather than running around Christmas shopping, preparing for parties, or doing chores.

Take the hint from nature. This is a time to slow down, focus inward, and renew.

And we do not Move an Inch: Why I Hate the Gym

While rummaging through some old files recently, I unearthed this piece I wrote during my sophomore year of college, before I’d discovered intuitive eating, joyful movement, or the concept of body love. I already realized how ridiculous the idea of gyms and losing weight to be happy is, but I wasn’t quite on board with the alternative yet. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

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The gym can be such a sad place.

I think of the young blonde girl on the elliptical trainer next to me. She can’t be more than sixteen. The paperback mystery and bottled grapefruit juice in front of her, both unopened; 185 strides per minute. I consider the tiny Asian woman on the treadmill to my left; with her cheap Hello Kitty CD player. What in the world is she listening to? The skinny, ruddy-faced teenager grunting on the bench press; the old woman in the SpongeBob tee shirt; the heavy, miserable looking man on the stationary bike. Why are we all here? What are we after? We gather here in this long, unattractive room to walk, climb, pedal, row, to perform movements that are designed to mobilize us; to get us somewhere, but we remain stationary. We exert Herculean efforts, but we do not move an inch.

Like the condemned before a firing squad, the machines are lined up facing the large windows that overlook the pool: the ultimate test, the gauntlet. We judge them; we scrutinize them in cruel, merciless ways that most of us would never admit ourselves to being capable of. We think to ourselves, “This is why I am here.”  To look like the tan, slender woman in the black string bikini or to avoid looking like the heavy, balding man with the bad skin and the hairy back. We are here to rid ourselves of our spare flesh, to banish certain parts of our bodies, as if every problem we have ever faced is stored there; as if losing our saddlebags will rid us of our insecurities. Shedding our love handles will dissolve our grief and fear of failure. We will be different, happier people when those last fifteen pounds have disappeared. We will be beautiful and therefore powerful.

There is also the prospect of what is to be gained by losing. The harder your stomach, the more lovable you will be. The firmer your thighs, the more popular you will be. You will no longer feel helpless. Every harsh word, every classmate that ever called you “fatty” or “slowpoke” will not matter anymore. Every cruel word will be erased from your memory, and those that mocked you will be silenced. Everything depends on the state of the body.

So here we gather in this long, unattractive room to walk, climb, pedal, row, and remain completely stationary. Long sessions on metal machines, devices that may appear to be terrifying devices of torture to someone who had never seen them before, to someone who had never experienced thoughts like these.

To be accepted. To become someone you feel comfortable with. To redo, to reshape an identity, to understand yourself, to become someone worth understanding. Is this what is important?

Cultivating Patience

It’s finally Friday! I hope you all have fun weekend plans, and that the weather cooperates with those plans.

Yesterday, I sat down at my easel to paint something, but I had no idea what. I’ve been feeling restless all week and I needed to get some of that mental energy out. I wanted to create something beautiful and satisfying, but instead I just squirted some paint onto my palette and scraped it around on the canvas with my palette knife, as if I were painting the feeling of restlessness, but that’s not what I wanted.

I struggle with the same thing in my yoga practice, wanting to rush through the poses and achieve an end. The problem is, it’s hard to achieve the desired result if we lack the patience to do what it takes to get that result.

Patience.

I need to develop patience. Most of us are patient with other people and maybe with one or two of our activities, but what other areas of our lives need patience?

  • Are we patient with our bodies? Do we wait until we are hungry to eat? Do we accept and work with our bodies’ limitations?
  • Are we patient with gaining knowledge, or do we stop reading before we reach the end of the book, or decide it’s not worth learning because we don’t get it right away?
  • Are we patient with learning new skills, or do we quit when it gets too hard?

I’m the first to admit that patience isn’t my strong point. I’ll stop reading a book if I don’t like the first four pages, I tend to multi-task a lot and I often find myself rushing through one task so I can move onto the next task, which I also rush through. It’s hard to live a peaceful, creative life when you’re rushing through things instead of giving each task the attention and care it requires.

I  realized that without patience, we will never reach our potential because we’ll give up before we get there.

How can we develop patience?

The same way we develop any other skill: Practice.

I feel like the best way to develop patience is to take baby steps, by applying it to an activity that really requires patience and slowness, to have a “patience practice”, just like a yoga or meditation practice.

Here are a few ideas for activities that help us cultivate patience:

  • Yoga or tai chi
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Needlework or any other craft
  • Meditation
  • Drawing or painting
  • Dance or martial arts
All the listed activities require learning a skill, and you can’t really rush through them if you want to be good at them. Create a practice to learn a new skill or improve one you already have, and use it to develop patience. Here’s how I plan to create my patience practice
  • Art: I’d like to tighten up my drawing skills and go back to some mediums that I gave up on before I really gave them a chance, like charcoal and ink and brush. With drawing, you really have to look at something and learn to render it as it looks and not how your brain thinks it looks. I always struggled with this in my first drawing class when my professor made us draw doorknobs and light switches, but I think drawing is something I need in my life again.
  • Yoga: My body needs more yoga, badly. My stiff muscles really need to be stretched and yoga helps my mind slow down too, but only when I actually give all my attention to my breathing and the poses instead of rushing through a few sun salutations, a couple forward bends and totally skipping sivasana. For the next few weeks I want to focus on holding poses for longer, giving more attention to my breathing and using props to get a deeper stretch. Slow down, don’t rush. Enjoy being in the poses.
How about you? Where do you need more patience in your life? How do you plan to develop that patience?

Healthy Interest vs Obsession


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It’s finally June! I can’t believe the year is almost half over! If you haven’t taken a look at your New Year’s Intentions, this is probably a good time to do that in case you’ve forgotten about them. I find that the beginning of anything (months, seasons, etc.) is a good time to go back over my goal and evaluate my position.

Moving along, I know that health-minded folks make up a significant portion of my readership, but this post is for anyone who’s ever battled a vice that is healthy in theory but can become addictive. For me, this thing is studying health and nutrition and collecting recipes. I’m sure I’m not the only one with a stack of unused cookbooks that serve the same purpose as picture books. For you the habit may be exercise, experimenting with your diet, cleansing, etc.  Most of  us have heard of orthorexia by now, and we all know that we can have too much of a good thing.

To give you a little insight into my (often obsessive) interest, I love to learn about health and nutrition and I have hundreds of recipes though I rarely use them. The problem is, I often do these things when I’m stressed or when I’m avoiding something, like when I have writers block or another form of creative fear. I can sit and organize my unused recipes for hours, I can read stacks of books promoting one nutritional theory, and this usually translates into obsessive and/or compulsive eating because I feel either restricted or afraid on some level of what internal organ will fail if I don’t eat that way.

When I feel more balanced, I rarely cook and I don’t think much about health. I do believe that studying food and health does have it’s merits though, so I want to balance it in my life.

Yesterday I felt compelled to look through my recipes again and to pick some out that I’d like to try. In the past I’d go through and catergorize them according to whatever diet philosophy I was studying at the time, and even though I’ve given up dieting, it was still a very diet-like behavior, like orthorexia without the will-power. I got out my cookbooks, thumbed through them but kept close tabs on my feelings so I’d know when I started feeling obsessive and needed to stop. That feeling never came, and I found myself getting bored after just a little while. No staying up into the wee hours organizing, no pouring over article after article on the merits of X supplement or Y diet restrictions. I just didn’t need it anymore.

Do you struggle with any vices like this? Working out? Cleaning you house? Your healthy diet? If you’ve been told that you’re “obsessive”, or if you feel like you must do these things, you might want to consider the line between a healthy interest and an unhealthy obsession.

Where is that line? 

  • Do you feel frantic, like you can’t stop doing something or that you have to get to a certain point before you can stop?
  • How often do you think about it?
  • Does this activity make you feel peaceful, inspired and happy, or do you feel like you must, or that something bad will happen if you don’t?
As a person with strong obsessive tendencies around food and health, I constantly ask myself these questions when I read food or lifestyle blogs, books, when I make grocery lists, etc.
I believe the key to managing healthy obsessions is balance. Here are some tips for managing an otherwise healthy obsession:
  • Keep tabs on the time you spend engaged in or thinking about this activity. If necessary, set a time limit or stop completely for a little while.
  • Pay close attention to your thoughts and emotions as you workout/cook/read/etc. If they start to speed up or feel negative at all, find something else to do.
  • Give yourself adequate time for relaxation and reflection to develop a calmer attitude. 
Note: If you find that obsessive thoughts persist despite your efforts, you may want to speak to a counselor or holistic doctor to check on possible imbalances or underlying emotional issues.
Many of us health-conscious people, especially in the blogosphere I’ve noticed, have a history of obsessive tendencies, so we would do well to keep tabs on our habits, especially if we’re still in transition from a restrictive to a healthy lifestyle.
Have you ever struggled with over-doing a healthy habit? 

Body Connection

“Learning to do back flips is so scary! Like when you can’t see the ground yet and you’re just up in the air…”

Most of my cousins are athletes. Runners, dancers, gymnasts, quarterbacks, you get the idea. I’m not. PE is a distant memory I’m still trying to erase and my nickname in grade school was “Slowpoke.” Didn’t bother me too much, I knew it was true.

I overhead two of my gymnast cousins talking about learning backflips, and these are the kind of kids whose bodies just seem to move effortlessly to their command.

“Not me.” I said. “If I’m going to do crazy things with my body, it’ll be on a yoga mat. Not flying through the air.” Then I realized, most of my life I never thought of doing anything with my body. I was just a brain riding around in my body, the idea of actually doing something with it, connecting to it in a way that comes so naturally to my cousins, was radical.

I thought about it for awhile. I used to be a couch potato but now I run (run/walk actually), do yoga, hike, and actually know how to feel my body; to live in it instead of just using it as a container for my brain. I’d learned to see it in a realistic way, but connecting to it was something else entirely. My body is actually a part of me. It’s not all me, it’s not my essence, but it’s part of me.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. Many of us only really feel our bodies when they’re uncomfortable, like if we have a stomach aches or if we pulled a muscle. How often do we think to feel it when it’s just being? Or when it feels good? Learn what it feels like to be sated, slightly tired, or a little hungry. Know what your body feels when it needs exercise, or a certain food, or sunshine.

Try “body meditation”, just by sitting quietly and consciously occupying part of your body. Pay attention to your stomach, your legs, or your shoulders and really feel what’s going on there. Tune in a few times a day to get an idea of what’s going on in your body.

I’ve found that learning to occupy our bodies is a huge step towards a healthier body image as well as intuitive eating. How will we learn the subtleties of gentle hunger and fullness or nutritional needs if we can’t listen to our bodies? How will we love them if we practically forget they’re there?

How do you connect to your body?

 

Respecting the need to slow down

I had some really nasty dreams last night, we won’t get into that but when I have bad dreams, getting up doesn’t count. I feel like I wasted all my sleep time. It’s kind of like my cousin Dane rationalizing that “free time didn’t count because I didn’t have that much fun.” Great. I’m turning into a seven-year-old.

I finally looked at the clock at 7:40, which is a reasonable time to get up, but I just couldn’t. I don’t like sleeping past 7 or 7:30, but I don’t work today. I have nothing I have to do today (except pack and maybe decorat a Christmas jar. And put gift coupons into envelopes.)

Why did I dread getting up?

Because I felt like getting up meant I had to put in an exercise video and go for it. And I didn’t want to.

Dilemma: Allow myself to be lazy even though I know it won’t serve me, or to force myself to exercise when I don’t want to?

IE isn’t permission to pig out on churros or to be a couch potato, but quite the opposite. My body was telling me it wasn’t ready for action yet even thought it didn’t want to sleep more. Ok, I respect that.

So I got up and sat on the couch with my computer until I feel like doing something. I have that luxury courtesy of Christmas break, and I know my body well enough to know that after a little while, it will want to move, just not the second I pop out of bed.

I have the urge, and guess what I feel like doing? Walking in the snow and taking pictures of this winter wonderland. I can hardly believe it myself. I don’t like snow, I dislike cold even more and I really hate wet feet, and I’m sure to encounter all on my walk. Frozen fingers while trying to get a shot of frosted tree branches? Check. Numb face? Check. But it sounds like fun. It won’t burn calories like a 45 minute Tae-bo video, but it will make me feel good (once the numbness goes away.)

So I leave you know to put on a couple pairs of pants, a sweatshirt, wool socks and my whole hat/scarf/glove collection, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday, and if I don’t write before then, Merry Christmas!

Spending out

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Hi, I’m McKella and I am a tightwad.

Not that that’s a bad thing. I’m very frugal and it’s helped me a lot over the years, but sometimes I toe the line between frugal and downright cheap.

For example, I don’t have health insurance. I’m four months overdue for my annual checkup, I haven’t been to the dentist in three years and I use each pair of contacts much longer than recommended.

Spend out is another rule borrowed from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I didn’t include it in my original happiness rules because…well, I really don’t know. Maybe I was afraid, or I didn’t think I had a problem. So I’ve decided to spend out and just cough it up for the things I need that I’ve been putting off.

  • Go to the freaking doctor.
  • Replace my running shoes
  • Look into getting health insurance.
  • Get a few new shirts- a bunch of mine are getting holey and threadbare.
  • Razor cartridges
  • Order new contacts
  • Get a dental exam

Also, yesterday I purchased something I’ve never had before: real workout clothes. We’re talking that nice DryWic stuff and clothes that were made for actually exercising instead of ratty t shirts and cutoff sweats. And you know what? I think I worked out harder, I felt stronger.

Buy the things you need .You’re worth it. However, recognize the difference between wants and needs. My wants list:

  • iPhone- would be awesome and practical, but I have a perfectly functional Samsung Solstice
  • Nicer Camera- the one I have isn’t great. Actually, it’s pretty lousy, but funds don’t allow right now, and I’m not a food blogger or anything so I don’t actually need it right now.
  • A mountain bike- don’t have time to use it like I’d like to, and winter’s on the way.

Don’t be cheap. Take care of yourself first. You deserve to be healthy, secure, and happy, so use good judgment and put your money into those areas.

How to Move with Joy

Forget everything you know about exercise for a minute. I know the word “workout” strikes fear into the heart of many and conjures up images of clanking metal weight machines and seconds ticking down on a treadmill, misery and the like, but it does have to be that way. Unless you want it to, of course.

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Moving your body is meant to feel good. How do you like to move? Do you love kayaking, or hiking, or riding your bike around town to save gas money? Perfect, do that. The idea of “joyful movement” is foreign to many, so here’s how to love moving.

In my experience, it boils down to three things: Motivation, finding a form of movement you love, and making sure you have time to do it. Those first two can be reversed if you want; moving just because is great, but I like knowing how it’s helping me too, because that helps a little more with #3.

1- Finding movement you love. What did you love to do as a child? What do you dream of doing now? Make a list of active things that sound fun to you, and try them all until you find something you can do regularly, or just keep trying new things. This doesn’t have to be things like rock climbing or white water rafting (though it could be) it could be something as simple as walking, hiking, and playing tag with your kids. For me, I prefer walking, hiking, and yoga. I have a list of more adventurous stuff, but these are the three that require the least money and equipment and I can do them regularly.

2-Find time to do it– You’ve heard the advice to “schedule” a “workout” like you would any other appointment, but  that just feels like another thing I have to do and that makes me want to do it less. I find routine works best, so I take a walk or hike first thing every morning, and I try to do yoga before bed. Find a routine that harmonizes with you day, so you’ll start looking forward to it, and your family will also get used to the routine and hopefully respect it.

3-Motivation– sometimes, the weather is awful or I just don’t feel like working out. There’s a difference between feeling ill and feeling lazy. If I’m lazy or the weather is awful, sometimes I just go to a gym or do a workout video. It’s never my first choice, but I know if I don’t exercise, I get cranky and just feel “off”, so I usually do it even if I don’t want to. Acknowledge what exercise does for you, and go above the “It keeps me skinny” crap. Instead, focus on how movement gives you alone time, or helps you manage stress and anxiety, or how you have so much more energy when you take your morning bike ride.

Let you exercise be fluid to suit you. Some weeks, I like intense cardio and even throw in some weight lifting and others, I just want a brisk walk followed by some stretching. If you’re going through a stressful time like getting married or moving, now is not the time to train for a marathon. Let exercise complement and improve your life, not take over it. The last thing you want to do is stress over something that’s meant to be enjoyed.

What sort of movement brings you joy?