You *don’t* have to work out.

 

Hi friend,

So… I’m really out of shape right now.

Note: For the purposes of this blog post, “in shape” is simply a way of describing a moderate-to-high level of athleticism, strength, mobility, and cardiovascular endurance. It has nothing to do with how a person looks, or what percentage of body fat they have, so the word “shape” here doesn’t make any sense, I know… but neither do any of the other words to describe this state, so this is what we’ve got. Also being “in” or “out” of shape is entirely relative because what does that even mean?? For today, I’m comparing my relative health and fitness markers only to where they’ve been for the majority of my adult life.

Anyway, the reason I’m out of shape right now is that the pandemic (and life upheaval/depression that accompanied it) completely ruined my previously-very-regular activity and exercise routine, and I didn’t replace it with… well, really anything.

This isn’t for lack of desire to move my body exactly. I love moving, and I know that when I’m more active I feel way better, so I’ve definitely had it on my to-do list for, like, eighteen months now. It just hasn’t happened.

Covid made the logistics tricky of course, but I certainly could have fit in more home workouts or whathaveyou, had it been a priority and I’d had the energy, motivation, and bandwidth. But alas, none of that was true.

Exercise stopped being a priority not because I don’t care about it, but because so many other really intense things suddenly got bumped to the top of my priority list and demanded my immediate attention. You know — like living through a pandemic, surviving each new (preposterously stressful and draining) day, moving across the country, navigating a new relationship and a business boom, buying a house, and– underneath it all — battling an abyss of dark and sticky grief.

It’s rather difficult to get motivated to do pushups or squats when it feels like an elephant of sadness is sitting on your chest, and sometimes I felt utterly justified in my non-movement, because honestly who freakin’ cares about fitness when people are dying and the world is on fire?

That’s not to say I didn’t try anyway — since exercise is supposed to be good for depression, I regularly forced myself to go for walks. Not brisk or ambitious walks though, more like sluggish mosies through the neighborhood, because that’s all I could muster… and even that was too much a lot of the time.

Some days I would cry through my entire afternoon break, and on the days I was feeling ok I would need to use that break to catch up on work or other shit that fell behind thanks to all the previous day’s crying.

Navigating physical and mental health is a weird push/pull sometimes. I wanted to take better care of my health, but it was a triage situation; tending to my mental health often had to come before tending to my physical health. If it came down to me spending a few hours doing something I knew would make me feel better (like connecting with my partner or taking a nap) — or going for a run — I nearly always chose the first one.

This is how it began anyway. Always something getting in the way, and then it just sort of rolled into a habit of doing not much of anything.

There’s a sort of gravitational force to being sedentary, because once you’re out of shape the thought of doing active things sounds hard and exhausting. I stopped going for walks when it got too hot out, I took time to rest when an old injury flared up, and I was busy and tired from doing things like moving into a new house, and working on a book proposal.

There was a moment this spring when I realized I was getting winded carrying groceries from the car to the house, and I realized that pretty much all the athleticism and strength and cardiovascular capacity I worked so damn hard to build and maintain throughout my twenties and early thirties was just… gone. As if it was never there. *Poof.*

I was super sad about this for a while, but I also found myself cracking up at how scandalized twenty-five-year-old-me would have been to find out that I don’t consider working out to be an important priority anymore. I was so into fitness, and it felt obvious to me that you have to work out; it’s an obligation and a responsibility! We owe it to ourselves to be healthy, and to always be pushing ourselves to be “better than yesterday”!

But it turns out, actually… we don’t. It is not a requirement that we spend our lives striving for perfect health, no matter what wellness culture would have you believe. You are absolutely allowed to focus on other things and have other priorities.

I also suddenly realized that you don’t need to work out even if health is really important to you. There are plenty of perfectly healthy people who just don’t work out. Ever. Sure, maybe they walk their dogs, and play tennis on the weekends. Maybe they have a job where they’re on their feet all day, or they work hard in the garden, or they hike or kayak a lot during the summer. I don’t think you could be healthy without being active in some way, but you can certainly be healthy without working out, or being “in shape.”

This is a hilarious insight to come to at thirty four years old. You just don’t have to work out if you don’t want to!

I’m sure you can see the slightly hysterical liberation I felt in exploring this thought.

It’s a far cry from the messages we’re given in fitness and diet culture, for sure. But if the life you desire doesn’t require any particular feats of athleticism, then you simply don’t have to be athletic. 

Ah but then there’s the thing, isn’t it? I like adventures, and I like to play, which often means I need to draw upon a certain amount of strength and stamina. Plus I like having the endurance and mobility to do things like holding a good sex position as long as I want it, and throw my niece and nephew around. And I definitely feel better overall when I move a lot, even if that movement is totally unrelated to exercise.

So here we are. About a month ago I took stock and realized I’m out of shape AF. I started taking a movement class once/week, which was already a huge improvement, although it kicked my ass and I never seemed able to supplement it with anything else throughout the week. The last few weeks I’ve taken some at-home spin classes on my partner’s (super cult-y) Soul Cycle bike.

To be honest, I don’t have any inspirational message here. I just wanted to share because I think it’s relatable — and also to remind you that you’re totally allowedto take stock of your health and fitness habits, and even to decide you’d like them to be different, without ever feeling bad about where you are now.

Post Covid vax, I’m slowly creeping my way toward a healthy and balanced life again, which means being more active and feeling more fit, among other things (like building a social life in a new city, and writing a book).

I don’t regret getting here, and I don’t feel bad about myself. I don’t feel like I’ve failed, or feel any shame/guilt over where I am. I’m just out of shape, and that’s ok. It literally doesn’t mean anything about me other than the fact that I’ve been focused on other priorities.

For the moment, I’m focused on movement being all about feeling good, having fun, and slowly building back my readiness for adventure and playtime.

Maybe you are too. Maybe you’re working toward a healthy and balanced life again in this new era. Maybe that includes more movement or exercise for you as well… but then again maybe it doesn’t. And both are valid.

Sending you big self-compassion and acceptance for whatever’s on your plate lately,

<3
Jessi

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