What keeps you motivated to stay healthy and fit?
September 30, 2012 12:03 AM   Subscribe

What excites YOU about your regular diet/exercise routine? What motivational thoughts do you have that you believe are uniquely yours?

I'm hoping that if some generous, awesome, open individuals were to explain their daily or weekly epiphany/experience/thought process which solidifies the whole "workout and stay in shape" experience in their minds, that I (and many others who find this question) might latch on to a common thread never before considered, and change our lives. Tall order, I agree.

But seriously, is it when you go home and look at your children, and know that you will be alive when they $FirstBorn['FavoriteMilestone']?

What happened that caused you to start the habit, and what mental system has kept you coming back? Also - what things did you try before that point that failed?
posted by Th!nk to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
I think about risk. I ask myself, given all the scientific evidence about lifestyle factors and disease risk, what are the chances that I could eat junk food, never exercise, and still maintain quality of life into old age? It's possible, I guess. We all know someone whose uncle Fred smoked a pack a day and dropped dead at 103. But the odds are not in my favour. Would I invest my life savings with a risk/return ratio like that? No. With odds that bad, I wouldn't even wager $20 to a friend at the pub. So why would I bet my life and my health, when they're so much more valuable to me than money? If I'm smart enough to have a savings account instead of playing the lottery, I should be smart enough to choose exercise over sloth.

On a more more mundane level, I've tried to set my life up so exercise is the easy choice. Cycle 35 minutes to work or spend an hour on a bus, stuck in traffic? I'll take the bike, thanks.
posted by embrangled at 1:11 AM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

Personally I do high intensity circus stuff (aerials and some acrobatics). Early 40s and no prior experience btw. Because it's fun and very demanding indeed, it's a great motivation to stay in shape.
posted by singingfish at 1:15 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

By way of background, I'm a 43 year old woman who lived much of my life fat and sedentary. Now I work out 6-7 days a week: 3-4 days of strenuous cardio (spinning) plus 3 days of heavy compound lifting like squats and deadlifts.

My motivation is about health/longevity, exerting control over my body, and external validation.

I am likely to develop things like dementia, osteoporosis, and cancer at some point in a future that I can actually imagine now that I'm in my 40s. Fitness and strength has been shown to somewhat lessen my likelihood for some of that.

Control over my body
I recently had a couple of years of bad luck with my health: broken leg, swine flu, acute abdominal pain and bleeding for months eventually requiring a hysterectomy. I broke my leg when I was still fat; I believe had I had stronger leg and ankle muscles I wouldn't have so easily missed a step, twisted an ankle, and then lost control of my other leg that didn't clear a step on some stairs and shattered. Besides, there is nothing like the fear and isolation of chronic pain or immobility or 9 days of fever to make you want to try to exert control over what your body is able to do. I figure if I can crutch up and down 3 flights of stairs, with groceries in a backpack, then I can do just about anything. Part of the feeling of control is further prevention. Part is clearly irrational. Deadlifts won't inoculate me against the flu, right? But if I can pick up that 115 pound barbell, I can walk very sure-footedly down the stairs.

External validation
There's no denying that it feels good when guys in the weight room express admiration or intimidation because I'm lifting heavy weights. Also, my husband and I use the weight room at the same time, encouraging and validating each other's feats. And it feels really good when my female friends remark on the shape of my arms or waist, or ask me to join with their husbands lifting something heavy, or call me a badass.

Now I've been doing it long enough that having it as a habit is a fourth motivation I didn't mention. Having to travel for work or any other thing that keeps me from working out for more than one day makes me antsy. It knocks me out of my routine. It makes me feel slothful, and like it doesn't matter what I eat so I might as well EAT ALL THE PASTA. It's such an ingrained habit now that it itself is motivation to keep my eating and my other routines in balance.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:35 AM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

My motivation to exercise is sort of simple: for me, as a woman in this culture, having a strong body that can do things is the best way I've found to fight against the culture that is always telling me that it doesn't matter what I can do: it just matters what I look like.

That message is a constant thrum in the background of my day-to-day life: most of my female friends (who are all amazing, capable women) worry regularly about either getting fat, or already being fat, or having become fat. They tell me about their new diets, and how they would feel so much happier if they could just lose 10 pounds. The skinny ones talk about the horror they felt when they gained 10 pounds, and how much better it feels to look in the mirror and see a skinny person again. They generally do not talk about all of this in terms of what is, or is not healthy, or in terms of what physically feels good for them. They talk about it purely in terms of how they look, or how they wish their bodies looked. And that's just my good friends. We're not even talking about the media yet.

I can feel those impulses in myself too: to try and shape my body in a certain way even if it requires unhealthy ways of eating, and feeling crappy for lack of food, just because my vanity wants to be admired. But I want to be healthy and feel good in my own body more than I want to look a certain way. So I go swimming to remind myself that my body is not just something to be looked at, and the speed with which I can slice through the water is a fierce joy. I take modern dance classes and Tae Kwon Do classes to remember that it feels good to perfect a new kind of movement, even when that movement has nothing to do with sex or the male gaze.

You know that awful quote, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels"? Whenever I can feel myself sliding in that direction mentally, I say to myself, 'But being weak and skinny isn't going to do me any favors. I'd rather be powerful than skinny, if those are the only two options,' and I take a minute to appreciate all of the physical things I can do. And then I go and make myself some lunch.
posted by colfax at 2:13 AM on September 30, 2012 [19 favorites]

For me, it is totally about building activity into my daily life. Doing that cost me big money. As in, when I decided to buy somewhere to live, I prioritised buying somewhere that would allow me to walk to most things and that cost more than buying somewhere less convenient. I can walk to the cinema, cafes, bars, pubs, supermarkets, bookshops AND work. And I do. That is my primary source of activity and exercise. Most days, I now walk to and from work (8km round trip). It cost me a lot more than buying somewhere cheaper, but it is totally worth it in terms of both my physical and mental health. I have lost weight, I sleep better and I feel better at the end of the day when I get home. I also feel positive about it from an environmentally sustainable view and that generally, I spend my time in a positive way, rather than being stuck in the car in traffic (which was never very positive for me!).

I also buy a lot of organic food, though my motivation is as much environmental/social as health, but this means I shop at the local organic health shop near me and therefore tend to not buy heavily processed food as I simply am not in shops where it is sold. And because this is actually the closest shop to me, I also carry it home (more exercise!).

The big thing for me is that living where you can do most of your day to day life on foot makes being fit part of your life, not something to fit in. And it fits with my values.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:22 AM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

I had a recent ephiphany when I came out of the gym after a heavy weightlifting session, feeling pleased and proud and tired and happy, and realised that I ALWAYS feel pleased with myself for having gone, and happier than when I went in. Always. There has never, in more than 10 years, been a single occasion where I walked out of the gym and thought, wow, I wish I'd stayed at home on the couch instead.

There aren't many other things I do in my life that are as 100% predictably fulfilling as that. And I realised I should start trusting my 1-hour-later future self more often to determine my actions.
posted by lollusc at 2:26 AM on September 30, 2012 [58 favorites]

For me, I simply turned it into something I genuinely want to do everyday.

I'm an artist/writer and I love coming up with new characters, stories, and worlds. The time that I spend working out every day is the time I get to think about these things, develop new ideas, etc.

I don't get a lot of other time during the day to do this (maybe in the shower, or driving to work, but really that's it) so that time becomes something special to me, something I look forward to.

The fact that I'm running, swimming, or walking while I think about these things is almost incidental now in a way, heh.

Not sure if this is what you were looking for or will apply much if you're not the creative, world-building type - but maybe there's something else that you can mentally focus on that's exciting to you while you work out?
posted by Squee at 2:46 AM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

Just watch this story.

I printed a screen-grab of Holland Reynolds crawling across the finish line and posted it on my door. Underneath it, I wrote, "There is no need to fail when you are surrounded by success every day."

ESPN also ran a story explaining that Tom Coughlin showed this video to the Giants in their Super Bowl winning season last year to motivate them. They entered the playoffs with a losing record but came out on top.
posted by phaedon at 3:05 AM on September 30, 2012

I like creating/making things - I've nearly finished a project (garden) and, after putting on some weight in the last year, I decided to turn myself into a project via strength training. I can see things changing already and that's enough encouragement to keep me going.
posted by heyjude at 3:11 AM on September 30, 2012

Turn it on it's head.

Find an activity that you like to do and absolutely must be in shape in order to succeed at. Mine is running races but yours could be mountain/rock climbing, hiking, cycling, skiing, ultimate frisbee, boxing, or a number of other things.

Then you will be motivated to succeed in your health and fitness because getting out of shape would take one of your favorite hobbies away from you.
posted by robokevin at 4:30 AM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Recently as I've been out for runs I've been reveling in how much I enjoy them. Not only do I feel great afterwards, I feel great *during* them.

This was not always the case--I can remember 25 years ago when I struggled to run 20 minutes without stopping. I used to hate running. I was the slowest kid in my class. I've exercised a lot through the years because I'm naturally very restless and it dawned on me at a certain point that exercising would help me get to sleep at night. There have, however, been many eras of my life when I relied on drugs/alcohol to calm down and get to sleep at night, and completely stopped exercising as it was too much effort. (None of those times were happy times.)

Which is a roundabout way of saying that, as much as I love exercise it doesn't come naturally unless I've been doing it consistently for awhile. Do some form of exercise every day for six months, and by the end of that it will be very unpleasant if you miss your exercise for the day. At least, that's been my experience.
posted by indognito at 5:44 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I love feeling sore the day after a hard workout. I mean-it's uncomfortable-but it totally reminds me of having kicked butt. Also, I love how easily I can move my body in the exact ways I want (when I'm not sore). I was squatting down to the bottom shelf in the grocery store to examine a product yesterday. And the popped up with ease- and thought, "yeah-that's why I kick my own ass". And smiles.
posted by atomicstone at 6:49 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Working out makes me stronger so I can hike/skitour further and higher in mountains without being a liability to my ski buddies.

Side benefit: I sleep better.
posted by larthegreat at 7:53 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recently put on some weight after my dad died and I decided to relax a bit and not police what I ate so much. Which was fine, but then once I decided to do something about it ["Okay it's been a year, let's get serious about taking this weight back off..."] I had some stopping and starting before I got into a groove with the gym and healthy eating. The things that motivated me

1. I am a control freak and I like many things in my life just so. Saying there was this huge part of my life that I couldn't really do anything about, when I looked closely at it, was a nutty thing for me to say

2. "I do these things because I love myself" I enjoy going to the gym and, like others have said here, it always makes me feel better. Sometimes when I don't want to go for various reasons I remind myself that this is me doing me a FAVOR and I should take that in the spirit it's given.

3. Results - I started becoming a serious exercise/food tracker which fits into my slightly obsessive personality and this worked really well for me [I'm on MyFitnessPal, say hi if you're over there]. Once I realized it was more like math, I was happier.

4. Sleep - just like larthregreat says, I would pay big money to have a solution for my bad sleeping and exercise is it and not even that expensive.

5. Pampering - all my good shampoo and soap and whatever are at the gym. When I'm at home and thinking "Ugh I need a shower" my next thought it "Get it at the gym with all your nice stuff and you can use that awesome shampoo you love afterwards"

I'm still not awesome at it and I chipped my leg bone earlier in the summer and I've been pokey getting back to the gym but having good habits in place before the injury is, I am sure, responsible for me not backsliding while I was recovering.
posted by jessamyn at 7:57 AM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think I would have gotten as fit as I did without friends. And that's a stupid thing to say but just getting a couple of my friends together to do an exercise program and getting through that first week for them was good enough so that by the time they'd dropped out, I'd kept going. A lot of the context for my growth here was 'not to be a loser'; I was going through that low point of smoking copious amounts of ganja and playing a little too much in the way of video games and I knew it wasn't getting me anywhere. Working out was my way out of that pit. It was something real that I could tie myself to that took me from a -2 to a solid +2. I'd be an ass not to admit that being young, self-absorbed, and typically vain didn't have anything to do with it though I'm safe in saying that it wasn't the primary motivator.

This book has kept me working out though, even after moving to a new city and having a decisive dearth of friends and not a whole lot to do. If you're not too jaded about some of the crazy claims neuroscience has been making, then Spark makes a pretty good case of tying together neurogenesis with exercise. The idea is if you want to be smart, you'll stay fit. It's also proven to help slow down the onset of dementia and that it promotes neuroplasticity. It's taken me from thinking of exercise like a crutch to thinking of it like maintenance for your life. And if experience has taught me anything, it's that if you want something to last, you can't just take its function as a given.
posted by dubusadus at 8:19 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a flip response, but I'm cheap. I am NOT buying bigger pants. (Also, it's not working out so much as eating less and walking way more (I changed my commute to walk 1hour+ on way home). You feel better about yourself. I read the news (and went to grad school) because I'm interested and want to be and appear educated. I eat healthily and stay in shape because it's important to me and I want to appear as though those things are important (literally).

Also, like Jessamyn says, it's a control issue. I control what I eat so I don't feel badly about myself later. I know before I eat how I will feel after- so why eat things that will make me feel bad? I don't burn my hand on the stove or tell my boss to go f themselves...I think first. Same with eating. Also walking calms me down. Also eat VERY slowly and appreciate your food. It's better. Also, losing weight etc is not a diet, it's a lifestyle. Healthy food (better food, there is no deprivation) and more physical activity is the key to a higher quality life. IMO.

On preview: I agree with everything AnnaRat said.
posted by bquarters at 8:34 AM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

What works for me is to feel connected to my body. This is kind of hard to explain, but you have to get beyond thinking of your body as simply the thing that carries your brain around. Your body is the only gift you receive free and clear in this lifetime. No body is perfect, but you have the self-awareness and intellect to figure out how your body works: how it is strong, how it is weak, how it responds to stress and plenty.

Then you have to realize that the way you communicate with your body is with food. Sure, exercise (physical stress) can help shape and condition it, but running every day won't "cancel out" bad eating habits. Your body responds to the food you put into it -- it has no choice but to react. Learn how your body reacts to food (and food quantities) and start putting in the food that creates the reaction you want.

Every day I think about how I appreciate my body. Every day I think about how the food I am eating will make my body react. I add just enough stress (exercise) to help change the shape of my body, knowing that the food I eat will go towards the changes I want. I enjoy my splurges because I know how my body will react and how I can restore the healthy balance I want.

And then my brain says, "Damn girl, this body carrying me around looks HOT!!!"
posted by woot at 8:44 AM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

I work out because it's FUN, which means that I only choose activities that I love doing (frisbee, climbing, soccer, biking, running, swimming, walking around on a beautiful day) and I don't force myself to do activities that I don't enjoy (rowing, treadmills, anything involving exercise machines). I vary my activities with the seasons like swimming when it's too hot to run and basketball when it's too cold for anything outside. If I feel like yogo, I do yoga and if I don't feel like yoga, I skip the class and go for a run or take a rest day and do something the next day. My goal is a workout 3-5 times a week, and I find that my body doesn't let me go much below that. It starts to get impatient and antcy.

Yes, I could be more systematic about it. At some point, I'm going to learn to enjoy lifting. But for now, this works for me.

I use sports as a social outlet and a way to meet people. New in town? Join a game and then go for a beer! Running around with my friends a few times a week keeps me consistant when my internal motivation is lower.

I have many wonderful role models in my life who are still doing their sport of choice into their 70s and 80s. When I look at them, I say 'yes, I would like to be able to spend the morning skiing at age 73 or bike 80 miles on my 80th birthday.' I also know some counter examples who are experiencing mobility issues at a relatively young age because they don't keep their bodies moving. I know what group I would like to be in.
posted by oryelle at 10:39 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

For me, it was realizing that I'm inexorably getting older and that none of this is going to get easier. I'm 22, but I've never been active and never really felt satisfied with my body. I have a strong family history for some chronic diseases, my weight had been creeping up and I'd started to notice I felt like crap if I ate too much shitty food. I didn't want to find myself turning 30 and still unhappy with my body and health, and facing an even harder road to getting to a good place with either.

So, I decided to make exercising a priority and try to make it part of my life. I got over my fear of being active in public and started running and lifting weights. Like some others have said above, I feel better after I work out and it's way easier to eat healthy when I've been active. It reduces my anxiety and increases my confidence. I like having a hobby that offers a million ways to improve. I like sticking with it, since I've traditionally been really bad at that. I like what it does to my body.
posted by MadamM at 10:43 AM on September 30, 2012

Exercise: I exercise so I can do the things I want to do living in my active outdoorsy town and with my active outdoorsy friends. For example I want to be able to go backcountry skiing this winter so I'm going to go climb a mountain today (a small one, it'll take 45 minutes) like I do several times a week all fall. I'm also doing chair sits until my quads give out every other day. I do some "working out" but it's all so I can enjoy myself later, I find it kind of boring otherwise. Right now I'm doing bodyweight exercises 3-4 times a week for about an hour because I am generally out of shape and flabby due to being pretty inactive this summer but I have to give myself a little lecture to do them every time. I also run 5Ks as motivation to run and as a social thing with friends. There are some activities that I enjoy very much and will do endlessly and alone in any weather, like xcountry skiing, but going to the gym or doing push ups are not in that category so I motivate by thinking how much easier I'll ski this winter if I go now. Mostly though I use friends to motivate me to be fitter and stronger- thanks friends!

Diet: this one is easy. I refuse to buy new clothes, REFUSE. If my pants get tight I eat half portions and no simple carbs or booze or desserts for a week or two (or three) until they fit properly again. Simple as that. I can still fit in pants from high school and I'm in my mid thirties. It's a lot easier to never gain the weight than it is to lose it and not gaining weight is a mindset that you can adopt. I gained a lot of weight on birth control twice, over 20 pounds, and learned that I find it really hard to lose weight when I have to. I suck at it! I greatly admire people who lose huge amounts of weight slowly and consistently. I'm not sure I could do that so I try to never be in that position!
posted by fshgrl at 11:36 AM on September 30, 2012

Oh, and a dog. My dog is pitching a gigantic fit right now because it's a weekend and we woke up ages ago and no one has taken her for a run. She is doing the dog equivalent of running through the house waving her arms in the air and yelling aaahhhhhhhh

The possibility of being mauled by a giant overexcited dog is good motivation for going outside and moving around.
posted by fshgrl at 11:39 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

For me it was being almost 30 and realizing that while I'd been heavy my whole adult life, I was now more than 100 pounds overweight and felt Horrible. I looked around me at the Healthy people, and realized that the truly Healthy ones (regardless of size) had fitness regimes. Like, it wasn't something the did like dieting, going for a few weeks and quitting, it was something they did All their adult lives.

So while I'd thought of myself as active, I joined a Y, and ten years later, I'm still exercising multiple times a week. It's something that is Part of My Life. And while I'm still more than 50 pounds overweight, I feel so much better than I did pre-exercise. Exercise helps with mood, self-confidence, social time, health, sleep - it just feels too good to quit!
posted by ldthomps at 12:02 PM on September 30, 2012

For me, what changed my perspective about health and fitness was a) being diagnosed as diabetic at 22 and b) joining a Krav Maga class.

For the longest time, I resisted exercise/fitness because of a bizarre pushback at the culture that told me I HAVE to be skinny to be pretty/sexy/a decent human being. It was a kind of a twisted version of Health At Every Size- I didn't like to be told I needed to get thinner, so by god I was going to be fat and happy.

And then about two years ago I got diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. That helped with recalibrating my diet, since I didn't fancy being on medication the rest of my life, but a lifetime of laziness/negative messages meant I still wasn't too enthused about fitness.

That changed when I joined a Krav Maga class. (If you have any interest in martial arts, I recommend you check it out. It's amazing.) Suddenly I had a reason for working out that wasn't connected to losing weight- namely, getting faster and stronger and having the stamina I need to fight, especially as a woman sparring with men much bigger and stronger than I am.

That reframing is huge for me, because it changed exercise from being something with a negative goal (conforming to societally imposed standards of beauty) to a positive goal (getting better at something I love.) So now I'm actually happy to go to the gym!
posted by Tamanna at 12:44 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

42 years old here and 3 days/week for the last year and a half I have been doing a strength and cardio regimen.

The cool thing about exercise is that multiple motivators emerge once you get going. The best way to summarize that is lollusc's excellent comment above.

However, the primary motivation for me came into focus around two years ago, shortly before my father died. He had lung and brain cancer and in the months leading up to his death I began exercising in earnest. There was a very conscious need for me have something I could control and unequivocally had good benefits. After he died, I continued exercising because I realized that feeling was necessary for a balanced life.

On a very practical level I have used music to give me motivation. I have a playlist with a few songs that remind me of my father. I play this playlist during cardio and these songs have formed a sort of connection between mind and body that I find very useful. My dad didn't always take care of his health in an ideal way and so I use this as a type of reminder.
posted by jeremias at 1:50 PM on September 30, 2012

I have chosen a pretty restrictive diet that can actually be a pretty huge pain in the butt sometimes because I like the way I feel, simple as that. I love to be comfortable. I do not want tummy troubles or joint pains or various little niggling symptoms bothering me all the time. So it's worth it to me to optimize my diet and to give up foods that I love. And as an aside I also never knew how many little things that I was putting up with or even not really noticing that have gotten so much better with a healthier life.

The exercise thing is partly that too. I like to be able to do reasonable things, like carrying heavier objects or holding a picture frame in place for a few moments without feeling pain or discomfort. I want to have the muscles necessary for good posture so that I do not get a backache after sitting at my desk all day. I like to be able to spontaneously climb a tree or break into a run just for fun and enjoy the feeling without my lack of fitness dragging me down.

There are benefits down the line too, with life expectancy and quality but it's really the immediate stuff that makes me put on my stretchy pants and do the exercises that I enjoy or pass up the food that I know has adverse effects on me but tastes so good.

If you are at all inclined to experimentation, there's also that aspect. I love doing something to the extent that I can try different things and gather data to see effects. I like to chart my food and note any results. The more extremely I do something, for example, eat this food and then challenge myself physically, the more pronounced the results vs. eating the food and just sitting around.

Having a community available that I interact with, both about nutrition and for exercise has made a difference for me as well. Some days when I'm not motivated I can let good ol' social pressure push me over into motion. So if you can find that you will probably have a lot more fun with the whole thing.
posted by tinamonster at 2:02 PM on September 30, 2012

For me, the light went on when I realized the whole evolutionary side of nutrition and exercise. My body's only going to express its genes properly when in an environment that's not too drastically different from the one in which it evolved, shaped by millions of years of exposure to nature - stressors and all. Look at societies who eat and live drastically differently from this; "new" diseases abound. I don't want to be a "zoo human" with everything that entails.

Seconding the comments about taking care of your mind by taking care of your body, as well.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 4:04 PM on September 30, 2012

My most motivational thought is usually "Well, I biked my way out here, I guess I have to bike my way home again." I have no idea why I can manage to put myself on my bike to get out to school in the morning other than the fact that everyone I work with knows I ride my bike and I would feel vaguely ashamed if I turned up in my car without some really good reason.
posted by Scientist at 5:12 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Knowing that exercise and diet can help with fibro has kept me at least trying. Work is a 20 minute walk and some days it seems like it would be so much easier to catch a cab. But my rheumatologist stresses the whole exercise thing.

Diet is much easier in Korea. I tend to eat a lot more veggies and a lot less meat than I do in the States. Once I transitioned to a more Korean diet, the weight just started falling off. I lost about 100 pounds in the last year-ish. Just being in Korea for a week now (not my first trip here) has my pants slightly looser than when I bought them a month ago.
posted by kathrynm at 9:24 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I started getting serious about being fit approximately a year ago. A combination of factors contributed to the initial push. First, I had been slowly becoming more and more unhappy with how I looked and felt. I have on-again-off-again depression that I have time and again refused medication for, and over the months before starting to really work out the depression sort of found a "spot" to pick at, and that spot was my appearance and confidence. One day my friends wanted to play frisbee. I didn't want to go, but I hadn't seen one of them in a while so I dragged myself to the park. By the time I got home my mood was vastly improved. I didn't notice that until a couple days later when I was mopey again, but when I did I started looking into basic exercise programs to work on. In practice, I didn't really set a routine until way later, but that was the start.

Now, I work out for a few different reasons.

Most recent: I am a huge nerd. I play video games and tabletop RPGs. I made up a game for myself wherein I am an adventurer, and I have to lift X weight for X reps to defeat a monster, or run a certain distance to complete a quest. I'm now solidifying these into "rules" and am hoping to play Dungeon Master for a couple of friends who also want to get fit.

Health: I'm coming to the realization that my body is not the most well put-together machine in the world. I'm young, but I've got a wonky wrist, weird knees, mild scoliosis, and an annoying hip. It used to get me down, but now I think that hey, most people would just avoid their bad spots entirely. I've made a conscious decision to work on those problems and improve my health. There's also diabetes and heart conditions in my family, and I'm determined not to develop either.

Fun: I can do a lot more now than I could a couple years ago. I can walk around town all day, wrestle with my friends, help my mum lift some heavy stuff or whatever she needs doing, and go to the gym at night without feeling awful afterward. I like to try to find my "fatigue threshold" and I like to keep pushing that threshold outward.

Future: One of these days I'm going to have to keep up with a two year old, who will become a five year old, who will become a ten year old, who will become a teenager. I refuse to stand by and watch; I want to participate in everything that kid does. I want to give piggy-back rides and play-wrestle and hike until Jr. is so tired I have to carry him/her back down the mountain. I also want to travel, and I don't want to be held back by long distances on foot, steep hills, or any other barrier. And of course there's the fact that most women look more favorably upon you if you're not overweight, so that's an extra little reminder. As a short, baby-faced guy I need all the advantages I can get. ;)

Finally, realizing that whatever motivation I use and that works is the right one has been a big deal for me. I used to be self-conscious about all the little games I play with myself to keep motivated and make it fun, but not any more. It doesn't have to work for everyone. It doesn't have to make sense to anyone but me. The fact that I'm doing it, regardless of reason, is enough.
posted by Urban Winter at 8:09 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

To be cliche, it's a bit of the Henry Rollins' "you couldn't say shit to me" thing. Lots of fitness activities offer an opportunity to challenge yourself at ever higher levels. I like to lift weights and it's more meditative than I expected it to be when I started (Krista at Stumptuous talks about lifting with purpose, focus, and joy). You have to build up an inner reserve to even get the courage to take a heavy amount of weight you haven't lifted before, don't know for positively sure you'll be able to, and try. It's scary and the chance you will hit a new PR is thrilling. I love the mix of lots of preparation and care beforehand with that moment. You regulate your breathing and all that. It's the same with other PRs, like running faster than you have before, or longer, or throwing farther, whatever.

And I'll admit that for me, the still gendered aspect is a double-edged sword--it can be a little lonely and I WANT the gender imbalance of conventional views towards lifting to change, but it does feel a little cool to be the only lady in the weight room, and to have people who visit admire you just for being so. That pioneering or rebellious spirit.

And then there's the super basic practical benefits. It is fucking fantastic to be able to help your friend move his piano or sofa with only one or two other people and not break a sweat, bring in ALL the groceries in one go, or pick up your husband's heaviest amps after a show like it ain't no thang. Mark Rippetoe alludes to this in the beginning of Starting Strength, how the world looks and feels very different indeed when you can manipulate its objects at your will due to increased strength.
posted by ifjuly at 9:17 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

(And gym-reliant stuff like lifting aside, before that, for me it was nature. Doing exhilirating things out in wilderness fixes my soul up right quick, whether that's kayaking, swimming in an ocean, hiking mountains, horseback riding, snow shoeing, whatever.)
posted by ifjuly at 9:19 AM on October 1, 2012

1) I have a sport to train for (roller derby), so working out is a way to improve my endurance and overall fitness to be a better skater. I'm much better about keeping to a fitness program now that I have a purpose.

2) I think about Godzilla. Yes, seriously. If Godzilla were to come crashing through town or god forbid, there was another 9/11 type of situation happening here in NYC, I want to be able to run as fast as possible without getting out of breath or be able to lift things to save myself or other people. I don't want to get eaten because I was too slow or ran out of breath or wasn't able to leap out of the way. Anytime I feel like I can't keep going or I want to go faster, I just say to myself, "Godzilla snacks, Godzilla snacks" and that thought gets me motivated.
posted by Fuego at 10:27 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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