21. Taking Exercise to Heart

21. Taking Exercise to Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Taking Exercise to Heart

It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.
 ~Marcus Tullius Cicero

I was released from the heart unit of the local hospital the day after Christmas. It was my worst Christmas ever. With a throbbing headache and a hot water bottle on my head, I could hear my mother whispering to her friends on the telephone. A neighbor came to the door with a worried look carrying a casserole. She asked in a whisper, “What if she’s disabled and not able to take care of the boys? Will you take care of all of them?”

Disabled? That was a possibility I’d never considered. What if I only came back from this crisis halfway?

Overweight and exhausted at forty-six, I was the single mother of teenaged twin sons. They took most of my time and energy. My career took the rest. My to-do list was always long and unfinished.

Additional tests the next day confirmed the symptoms were from too much stress. Though I only had borderline problems with high blood pressure and blood sugar, the message was clear: change my life now. Over the years, I’d gained nearly 40 pounds around the hips, waist and chest. That put me in the high-risk category for metabolic syndrome. I had to learn another way to manage my life and stress.

My lifestyle had been to come home from work, cook dinner, eat portions to match my athletic teenaged sons, and then go to bed early.

Exercise to me was as fun as bathing the cat. When I had physical education in high school, I thought of push-ups and running laps as punishment. I could never imagine exercising could be fun or a routine part of life.

That changed! Over my summer break, I met a friend who worked out regularly. Danica was active, shapely, and slender. This beautiful woman cooked healthy meals from basic fresh foods. She helped me learn to eat smaller portions and eat fewer desserts. Danica and I worked out with aerobic fitness programs four times a week. I began losing about two pounds a week, but more importantly, inches.

My sons and I always had several bicycles at home, as both of them raced in local bike events. I dusted my two-wheeler off and unsteadily rode it down the block. Then I started riding the bike to work about a mile and a half away. The tall fourteen-year-olds hooted with laughter at their wobbly bike-riding mom.

In time, I gained confidence and skill, and my wide behind began getting smaller. My big stomach was nearly gone.

Every week, I weighed myself and measured my bust, waist, and hips. Then I recorded the numbers on an index card. Wow! From 42-35-44 to 39-30-39. Seeing the results on the card helped me to say no to more food. By eating better and exercising, I was feeling and sleeping better and my posture as well as my attitude were better. I learned the more you exercise, the more you can eat. The sweets should be just a small portion though: one or two cookies, not six.

I still had not learned how to handle stress differently, but I would soon learn. Depressed one day, I went over to Danica’s, not wanting to work out. I sat on the sofa staring at the wall.

She asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Everything,” I told her. “Today, I went to Virginia’s to give her a birthday present, and she was labeling everything in her house so the kids know who gets what after she dies. She’s having surgery in a week. What an attitude! Then I found out I am overdrawn in both of my checking accounts.”

“Well,” she said with a cheerful smile, “We’re going to exercise and you’ll feel better!”

I did. Through that, I learned that you exercise even when you don’t feel like it.

Exercise had not just become a habit, it was a way to lift my mood, combat stress, stay flexible, and slow down aging.

~Jo Russell

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