For most of us middle-aged gals, isn’t all our talk about “getting into shape” really just our secret code for why we’re taking another slice of pizza? It’s our code for all the diets we’re going to go on – in the future. Well, hey Nancy Drew, there’s another key part of the equation – and that’s fitness. By the way, that’s code for regular exercise.
For someone who didn’t do regular exercise, I sure thought I knew a lot about it. Except how to fit it into my day. But with a holiday in the Swiss Alps looming, my mind began to buzz with memories of orthopedic mishaps from vacations past. Not the distant past – as a child I was thin, playful and active. As adults, we tend to slot people into 2 categories; you’re an athlete or a klutz – but I’m living proof of the middle ground.
I don’t have any trophies, ribbons, or prizes, but I can swim, play a little tennis, and ride a bike. I love being outdoors and feeling the summer breeze take the little tennis ball and ram it down the baseline past my husband’s racquet. Yes, I admit it, I am a bit competitive. I’m not crazy – I don’t have to win every single time, but I do hate to lose. Hey – that’s the spirit that built America, right? But this all-or-nothing approach got me into serious trouble a few summers ago when my mind was having one vacation while my knees were having another.
It had been a great week at the beach with my sisters and our families. We kicked off each morning with a group tennis lesson followed by a few easy games with the kids, followed by a long hike to the coffee shop for hours of girl talk, and a late afternoon bike ride to the pool with my husband. I was as happy as I could possibly be. Flash forward a month later when the dull ache along both sides of my knees had turned constant and scary – I literally couldn’t bend my knees. My orthopedist made a swift diagnosis – I was simply so unfit that I had no strength in my quadricep or hamstring muscles, and the poor ligaments around my knees got pressed into doing all the hard work that week. It took months of physical therapy to build up muscle and stretch out the kinks, and I hurt for a long, long time.
My dream of hiking the Alps had to avoid a similar nightmare for my back, knees, joints, and muscles. I could make it up the mountain fat, but I knew I couldn’t do it unfit. So that’s how daily exercise becomes a non-negotiable – sensible daily exercise that is.
I start by wearing the same pedometer we give to all our guests to make sure I hit 10,000 steps every day. Dr. Mike says there isn’t anything magical about 10,000, but new studies show it seems to be the point where you get both health and weight loss benefits. New York City is a walking town, and I can easily rack up thousands of steps. But in order to reach the goal of 10,000 step,s (that’s about 5 miles the way I walk) I have to deliberately plan a half-hour walk on top of all the incidental walking I do.
I have come up with a few ways: I get up a half hour earlier and walk around my neighborhood. It’s a treat during nice weather and early morning sunlight. I live on the Hudson River and it never stops being a thrill to spot the Statue of Liberty in the harbor – it’s like she’s giving me a high five as I pass by. Another trick: I get off the subway at Times Square and walk the rest of the way to our offices in Rockefeller Plaza.
When I was in physical therapy before to rehab my knees, the therapists focused on resistance training and stretching,and had me work with 3 powerful fitness tools: the exercise ball, the resistance band and the foam roller. You can find all this stuff at sports stores or online. I decided to start an exercise program which incorporates these fitness aids and found one developed by fitness guru, Denise Austin. She’s got a book called “Sculpt Your Body with Balls and Bands” (love the title – it sounds a little naughty) which promises to show you how to “shed pounds and get firm in 12 minutes a day.” It can be hard to follow exercises from photos but I find Denise’s book and system easy to follow.I put together 2 basic routines: 1 for the core and 1 for upper body/lower body, and I added them into my daily routine. I do them 5 days a week – Saturday I stretch. Sunday I’m off.
And yep – it really does take just 15 minutes tops. All I do is walk to the guest room where I have all my gear set up. But the real achievement is even more profound than the subtle changes in my body shape and muscle tone. I remember something Dr. Oz once said: the enemy of good is perfect. Well, I had to confront my own perfectionism and stop listening to the nagging voice in my head trying to tell me that something this simple couldn’t possibly work. It wasn’t long before I began to see actual results. The first thing I noticed was that my legs didn’t hurt on my walks anymore. Then a pair of pants was baggy on me. And best of all, one morning as I was in the kitchen making breakfast smoothies, Tom looked up from his coffee and said, hey – you’re losing weight. Now, the truth is – I had only dropped a couple of pounds. But it looked like I was definitely on the right track.