You must walk before you can run: Throughout our lives, this age-old mantra reminds us of the importance of attaining basic knowledge and skills before attempting something more challenging. Now, with spring upon us, maybe it’s time we take this metaphor a bit more literally.
The sunshine has an undeniable effect on our desire to be outside. For many, this means a morning walk in the park, and for others it’s a regular game of tennis or the extra motivation to train for that end-of-summer triathlon. Regardless of the degree of exercise, take it slowly! Overdoing it now can lead to injury later, and being stuck inside with an injury is the last way to lead off spring and summer.
There are many ways to ease into your preferred sports this spring. First, always make sure to set aside time to stretch before heading outside. Not just your legs, but your arms, your back, and your neck—everything. Like it or not, our bodies stiffen as we age, our flexibility wanes, our muscles tighten. Stretching appropriately not only loosens our limbs but generates blood flow as well, consequently improving our circulation. And increased circulation means the added bonus of more energy for that fun outdoor activity!
With some practice, you may even start to find stretching relaxing—both a way to improve flexibility and a calming way to start your day. Even five minutes of stretching a day is enough to feel improvement. Take a look at this video for ideas on how to begin a new stretching routine each morning.
No matter what sport you choose, you need to stretch all parts of your body. For example, you use your legs just as much as your arms when playing tennis. Here’s a great video, by the Stretching Institute, that can guide you through a set of stretches most appropriate for tennis.
Drink up! It’s probably best to save that glass of wine for after your workout . . . but drinking enough fluids throughout the day is essential to maintaining a healthy and fit existence. Water is the most effective option for staying hydrated. The added sugars in juices, sports drinks, and soda are not necessarily our friends, even though they do taste good.
The more energy you plan to expend through exercise, the more water you are going to need to drink to maintain your hydration. As the temperatures rise, staying hydrated becomes ever more important, since it allows our bodies to cool ourselves through sweat. A dehydrated “athlete” (yes, that includes you women who like your morning walk!) becomes lackluster, dizzy, and weak; this significantly increases the likelihood of injury. And remember that hydration needs to occur before as well as during exercise. By the time you feel thirsty—or, worse, dizzy—it is most often too late. A simple glass of water with your breakfast and coffee is a great way to kick off the day on the right foot; it might even get you musing about the fun outdoor fitness session to come, adding motivation to that inner athlete you didn’t even realize existed.
Once you’re out on that tennis court, be sure to take breaks often, and always drink water during the breaks. And if you’re playing nine holes with your friends, make sure to pack plenty of water in the cart. Most courses have water on every few holes, so you will have plenty of opportunity to refill as needed. It’s always a good idea to pack small snacks in your bag as well. Something as simple as a banana, trail mix, or a granola bar can go a long way towards to keeping your energy up and your muscles happy. A body filled with energy is less likely to get injured and more likely to enjoy your weekly game.
Lastly, take things slowly. Just because you ended last summer playing tennis on Monday, golf on Wednesday, and jogging all weekend doesn’t mean you should start there. Ease into your ultimate, desired activity level gradually. Let your body be your guide. Even the greatest athletes in the world have to work relentlessly to build up to the regimen they deem acceptable. We all have different goals for ourselves athletically; getting there methodically will be rewarding, for you’ll be avoiding injury while you’re having fun.
Now that it’s sunny, I’m heading outside. After I finish this water.
So…how are those New Year’s resolutions going?
As we embark on the second month of the year, maybe you feel like a million bucks. After all, you’ve gotten four productive weeks under your belt, fulfilling your resolutions to eat healthier, exercise more, save money and improve yourself across the board.
If you’re anything like the rest of us, your resolve has not only begun to fade, it’s starting to sit like that last glass of eggnog on Christmas, weighing you down literally and metaphorically. Studies show that by March, over 50% of us will have abandoned our New Year’s resolutions entirely. And it may be cynical of me, but I’d venture that the number would be even higher if people were truly being honest about it.
So maybe it’s time for a February resolution. Rather than make these winter months more dreary than short days and cold nights already do, why not find a way to make this year different—not simply enduring, but embracing.
It’s about having some fun.
There’s no shortage of emotional and physical benefits to exercise. And there’s no shortage of books, magazines, and people that want to tell us all about them. The problem isn’t a lack of information, it’s finding the time, energy, and essential motivation to gear up for the dreaded word we so badly want to love and enjoy: exercise.
Here are a few suggestions to make it more fun, especially at this time of year.
Do it with friends. Exercising with friends is a lot more fun than exercising alone. Everyone’s time is precious, and all too often we end up canceling on our pals as life gets in the way. But catching up doesn’t have to be over coffee, lunch, or wine—maybe it’s a weekly tennis game or a line of bowling, even if you’ve never played the sport regularly. Friendships forged through sport often last a lifetime, since shared hobbies and passions can intertwine lives in a wholly unique way.
Stake out the time and protect it. If you commit to a weekly time slot with a friend or two, you’ll find it much more difficult to cancel. Book a racqet court at a regular time, or sign up together for an exercise class. Once you actually work it into your schedule, you’ll probably find it much easier to keep it going.
Add a touch of competition. Many of us were raised to be “nice,” and a healthy sense of competition wasn’t always part of that definition. Instead, it was something we’ve had to nurture in ourselves. Now that we’ve finally managed to acquire it, why not have some fun with it? Don’t underestimate the zing that a little competitive adrenaline can add to your sport or workout.
Consider joining a sports league. I know—chances are, you’re scoffing at the mere notion of such a thing. But not so fast. As the world has gotten used to the idea of healthier living—and strong, independent women—an abundance of women’s sports leagues have popped up across the country, in tennis, soccer, golf, running, volleyball, and even ice hockey, to name just a few. They’re out there, and probably closer than you think. They welcome beginners young and old who are willing to get out there, get some exercise, and to play to the best of their abilities, whatever that might be.
I recently joined a women’s soccer league that plays every Sunday morning. The athletic level is moderate, but the enjoyment is outstanding. Many of our players are well into their 40s, and all of us are committed to that hour out of the house, doing something for ourselves, and enjoying every second of it. Every week I’m astounded at how good it feels, even though it’s only an hour. In addition to the fun of the game itself, there’s the added benefit of an entire new group of friends, with a shared enthusiasm to boot.
Whether you’re an independent working woman, devoted wife, caring mom, or some combination of the three, we all know how hard it can be to find time for ourselves. But there are many ways to make exercise more fun. Maybe this approach can help you find the motivation to keep moving through these cold, dark days until spring finally kicks in and lures us all outside. And when it does, perhaps this way of thinking will find you embracing this special time for yourself each week, discovering that a little innocent competition can be utterly invigorating, and getting acquainted with the inner athlete you may have forgotten—or never knew.