This year, I decided to work on 12 health projects, the idea being that taking my health goals and dividing them into smaller, more manageable projects would make pursuing those goals less overwhelming. This would also provide a framework for accountability. If you’re familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, I’m a Rebel, and one way my tendency manifests is my stubborn refusal to set so-called SMART goals for myself. It’s not that I’ve never tried to do this; it’s just that it triggers rebellion every time and always ends with me more or less giving my own goals the finger. This doesn’t mean I don’t have goals, it just means I have to approach them differently. For example, if I strongly feel that I want to identify as someone who can move freely, easily and without pain, I find it quite easy to work toward that goal as long as I don’t define the goal too specifically, chart out any step-by-step plans or start actually measuring progress in some defined way. This is the reasoning behind my 12 health projects, and so far, I’d say it’s turning out to be a good way for a Rebel Tendency like myself to work toward some worthy goals.
February was my month of movement, and if we ignore the fact that we’re already over halfway into March, I thought I’d give a little recap.
First of all, it was HARD. Like, waaaaay harder than I had anticipated. It turns out that our movement habits are super ingrained, and changing them takes more effort than I had appreciated.
Or maybe I did appreciate it, but I thought it would be hard for people who are more sedentary than me; I expected it to be easier for me because I already considered myself to be pretty active. Oops. Yeah, let’s just say February showed me how naive I can be.
A little background: I played varsity soccer and ran varsity track and field in high school. I was very athletic, and even though I stopped playing organized sports in college, I remained pretty damn fit into my mid-twenties. Having kids indirectly had a negative effect on my fitness—I say indirectly because it was really the change in my habits that had the effect, not having kids in and of itself. Before I had kids, I walked and biked everywhere because I didn’t want to pay for public transportation if I could avoid it. After kids, I still didn’t have money, but I found myself a) traveling longer distances less frequently and b) using public transportation more often because I felt less flexible with my time when I was without the kids and more encumbered by kid paraphernalia when I had them with me. Nowadays I still walk or bike most places, but the distances are shorter since I tend to stay within a tighter radius of my home. Also, I work from home, so it’s easy to avoid leaving the house at all unless I make a conscious effort. And lastly, two massive MS flares in the past 3 years meant that I experienced two very long periods of extreme sedentarism, which were accompanied with all the reductions in fitness and muscle atrophy you might imagine. Needless to say, neither my endurance nor my strength are what they used to be.
So this is what I did:
- Most days, I followed Katy Bowman’s Daily Movement Multivitamin.
- Most days, I walked about 10,000 steps (with a variation between 7,000 and 15,000).
- Most days, I hung from my chin-up bar.
- Instead of going on bulk grocery shopping trips, I bought less on each trip, which forced me to walk to a store every day or every other day.
- If a destination was a mile away or less, I walked instead of taking my bike.
- If I wanted something, I got up to get it myself instead of asking someone to bring it to me.
- I mostly worked at my computer standing up.
- I finally found a pair of warm, minimalist winter boots and wore them for my walks, and I tried to stay barefoot as much as possible when I was home (i.e. when it wasn’t freezing).
This definitely all increased my daily movement, and it helped me avoid having super sedentary days, which I would normally have a couple times a week. I noticed that by walking and doing more, I really did have more energy. But even on a good day, 15,000 steps is a LOT for me. It wouldn’t have been a few years ago, but it certainly is now. And there were some setbacks and humbling experiences, too.
For one thing, I’m as lazy as the next person. I didn’t want to get up to get my own glass of water, damn it. When grocery shopping, I had a tendency to buy more than I could carry, which made the walk home more challenging; sometimes this was a good thing, but sometimes I overdid it and needed a couple hours to recover from the effort. I found all sorts of ways to convince myself that I didn’t need to go to the store, which meant less movement that day and fewer food options, which often translated to cranky kids who did not want the same snack for the fourth day in a row OMG, Mom. And I discovered that my alignment while standing leaves a lot to be desired, so standing while working sometimes caused more pain, not less. Also, it turns out you can’t fix your alignment in 28 days (unless maybe you are able to work at it like a full-time job?), so this wasn’t “fixable” within the scope of this health project, although I did work on it as much as I felt I could.
A minor emergency had me running home one day, abruptly interrupting my shopping trip. I was about a mile from home, and I could not run even half that distance. Ouch. This was actually a common theme: given my athletic past, I hate seeing how much less I can do now than I once could. I find it very disheartening, and it often made me feel like giving up. On the other hand, I expected my all-out effort would leave me feeling horrible the next day (since I’ve experienced a fair degree of exercise intolerance since getting MS), but it never came. To me, this means I’m getting fitter, and I can probably start challenging my body a little more.
My major setback was that I managed to throw out my back right in the first week. I have no idea how it happened, but one day I could barely move, seemingly out of nowhere. The pain would subside over several days, and then I would move in some way that suddenly re-ignited the pain. I was stuck in this cycle for most of the month, and it was super frustrating. I noticed that there was a big connection between my lower back pain and tightness in my hamstrings and calves. I tend to be very flexible, and my low back is not where I generally experience back pain (I’m more of a knotted-up shoulders kinda gal), so I don’t know where any of it came from, but it definitely seems interrelated, and I wonder if it has anything to do with the adjustments I’ve been trying to make to my whole-body alignment.
But despite this setback and the fact that I wasn’t able to be as consistent with certain things (like the movement multivitamin) as I wanted to be and that I never once did the yoga I had planned on doing, I definitely finished the month moving much more and much more consistently than when I started. I think it’s fair to say that I made certain things (like walking instead of biking, choosing to get up and move instead of asking someone to bring something to me) part of my daily habits, and that means it’s a behavior I can continue without too much conscious effort even as I turn my focus to sleep (March’s health project).