Way back in 2019, I started a "conversation" here about wellness -- specifically about fitness, and especially as we age. Based on your comments, it was pretty clear back then that we all pretty much fell into one of two camps:
(1) those of us who have discovered strategies to make fitness a part of our lives, and
(2) those of us who would like to.
Throughout 2019, I asked some of the folks in the first camp to share their fitness and workout strategies with those in the second camp. First, I shared my sister Diane’s story– about developing a walking routine for the long term. Next, I shared Carolyn’s story – about mastering a self-directed fitness/video routine. Then I shared Patty’s story – about developing a fitness/support community to stay active for the long haul. And finally, I shared Claudia’s story about getting strong and becoming a fitness advocate for yourself.
Last fall, I checked back in with each of them to see how they were doing with their fitness through the pandemic. (You can read their updated stories here: Diane, Carolyn, Patty, and Claudia.)
Today, I’m happy to bring you another personal fitness story. This time, I’m going to introduce you to Karen. . . someone who has made the absolute most of her “pandemic time” to not only up her fitness game, but to change her entire lifestyle. I met Karen here - through my blog - and we’ve followed each other on Instagram for several years. As the pandemic dragged on, I enjoyed following Karen’s fitness progress on IG. I think you’ll be as inspired by her story as I’ve been!
Kym: To get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your life — how you spend your days, what you like to do in your free time, what makes you happy . . . that kind of thing.
Karen: I’m 58 years old, married, with 2 sons who are both married and I have 5 granddaughters! I work in the nonprofit world as a controller for a statewide organization that funds legal aid programs in PA. I have always worked in nonprofit accounting and grant writing. As someone who ‘crunches’ numbers all day you don’t always get to see how your work impacts a company. In the nonprofit world I have been able to see how the work I have done impacts the community around me. It is very fulfilling. The work our programs do - especially in these crazy political times in our country - is needed even more than ever.
As empty nesters my husband and I have enjoyed camping, hiking, and kayaking. We bought a small camper after years of tent camping with our sons. And we took up kayaking about 5 years ago. We love to visit wineries and breweries. My husband actually started brewing beer a few years ago. I love to knit (this is how I found your blog years ago), garden, craft – especially with my granddaughters, travel, cook (especially as a new vegetarian), and take pictures.
Kym: Tell us about what you used to do about fitness in the Before Times, and how that changed during the pandemic. What inspired you?
Karen: As a kid I was always super skinny. I could eat whatever I wanted and never gained weight. But in my 20s that changed. I slowly started gaining weight, and honestly have been overweight the past 25 years. That is hard to admit. I have dieted for years. Tried everything! Same old story – lost and gained over and over. And each time I gained I added more lbs.
I struggled with health issues related to being overweight – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep issues, joint pain, etc. I was a couch potato for years. In recent years I had worked off and on with a personal trainer. And while that was wonderful and I gained strength and learned so much, I never changed my eating habits.
When the pandemic hit in March and we were sent home to work remotely on March 16, I knew this was dangerous for me. I knew the anxiety of the situation as well as being home 24/7 with access to the kitchen could take me down. I kept hearing people talk about the “COVID 15” – kind of like the “freshman 15.” I made a very conscious decision to use this time to take better care of myself.
Kym: What does your fitness routine/regimen look like now? How did your fitness routine come to be? Do you follow any kind of program or plan, or did you just make it up on your own?
Karen: Several people I follow on IG mentioned that we were given a gift in that those who had a commute before the pandemic now had that time back. I thought that was a brilliant idea! While my commute only amounted to about an hour a day I decided to use that time to walk. I started slow, maybe a mile or so a few times a week. I was slower than mud. But the movement combined with the fresh air cleared my mind and was unbelievably good for my soul! Little by little I walked a bit faster, a bit longer. My goal now is 5k a day. Sometimes, especially on weekends, I walk or hike longer.
And then I added in strength/weight training. I use a program through Beachbody on Demand called LIIFT4. It combines HIIT (high intensity interval training) with lifting. It’s 4 days a week for about 30-45 minutes. What I love about it is they always show a modification to the exercises, which is good for me as I have knee issues – like need 2 knee replacements issues.
And I also changed my eating habits. I had been dabbling with eating whole food, plant based (WFPB) for a few years. March 17 I decided to really work hard at this way of eating. I will say I am about 98% compliant. I do eat some cheese once in a great while (yum – pizza!).
(This is a progress photo of Karen wearing the same hand knit sweater.)
Kym: How do you stay motivated?
Karen: What keeps me motivated is the way I feel! The combination of exercise and healthy eating has worked – who knew? I am down 55 lbs with about 20 more to go. But it is more than the number on the scale. I feel better than I have in over 20 years. My painful joints are gone. My terrible knee pain – gone – despite walking 25 miles a week. All of my health numbers – except my BMI sigh – are wonderful. My doctor is thrilled.
As the weather got colder and the daylight hours changed it was harder. I now walk M-F at 5:00 pm in the parking lot of our local high school. It is well lit, safe and has a killer hill at one end of the school. And three times a week my husband runs at the same complex. On weekends it is easier as I don't have to be up as early.
The old me would have used the lack of daylight as an excuse. The new me found a way around it as it is important to me.
Kym: What advice or words-of-wisdom do you have for others trying to get started — or keep going with — a new fitness routine?
- Make the time for yourself. As a woman, wife, mom, I think we sometimes put ourselves last. We take care of everyone else first. And for years I let my job rule my life. It still does in some ways and working during the pandemic has actually made work harder and at times meant longer hours – new funding sources, complicated revenues, finding new ways to work from home – have complicated work. But I schedule my workouts – put them on my calendar and 99% of the time I can follow through.
- Stop making excuses. I am the Queen of Excuses. I could find so many reasons for not exercising – too hot, too cold, too windy, my knees hurt, I need to work, I’m too tired.
- Start slow. Too many times we go all out from the start, get hurt or end up overly sore and that tends to make us stop.
- Find something you love to do. Who knew I would love strength/weight training? It is empowering!
- Get outside – no matter what the weather! This is one thing I strongly encourage to anyone who will listen. My husband and I get as much fresh air as possible each day, every day. This article on the Norwegian concept of Friluftsliv speaks to this. Kind of like the new hygge! I love walking in the rain and snow. We eat outside on our deck as often as possible – sometimes all three meals a day. Our neighbors think we are nuts as we can often be found having early morning coffee on the deck when it is 35 degrees outside, bundled up with a blanket over our legs and wooly caps on. The fresh air every day has kept us sane during this crazy time in our country. And as most of us are working and living in the same place it is good to get a change of scenery by getting outside.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. My husband is a runner. I am constantly comparing my meager miles at a much slower pace to his. It is not a good thing to do. Instead think about how far you have come. I track my mileage in a spreadsheet – yup the accountant in me! I have walked/hiked over 1000 miles in the past year. This from a former couch potato.
- Be active with others. That can be hard right now as we all continue to social distance. I will admit I really like walking on my own. It clears my brain like nothing else. I like setting my own pace and exercising at my convenience. But I also enjoy being active with others. I spent last summer hiking, hiking, birding and kayaking with my husband and sometimes family. All are great social distancing activities if you time it right.
- Realize you are worth it. Oh this is a hard one. We all deserve to be healthy and happy. Make the time to be healthy. Find out what makes you happy.
I’ve really enjoyed watching Karen’s progress through these pandemic days. Her story is so powerful and inspiring. And you know what else is powerful and inspiring here? Her words of advice! They’re so very good! But I want to really highlight a few of them that have come up in each of the fitness interviews I've posted since beginning this focus on fitness.
First, make time for yourself. This is always tough, because we fill our days with "stuff" and never feel like we have time. But making time for fitness now . . . will pay off as you get older. (And we're all getting older.)
Second, start slow. And this applies to all aspects of fitness programs. Start with just a few minutes minutes. Lighter weights. Fewer reps. Then . . . build up to more mintues. More days. Extra miles. Longer planks. Let it happen gradually. (No burpees on your first day. . . )
Third, don't compare yourself to anyone else. Period. We're not trying to be competitive athletes here. We're just trying to become more fit . . . so we can feel better, age more comfortably, and stay healthy. It doesn't matter how anyone else is doing. It matters how YOU are doing.
As we were working on this interview, Karen told me that she almost felt guilty that the crazy pandemic has been "good" for her. She says it made her slow down, and it made her want to be her healthiest so if she did get sick, she'd be able to fight it. Talk about a silver lining!
When I do these fitness interviews, I always ask about Gretchen Rubin's "Four Tendencies." In Karen's case, she told me she is an Obliger . . . which is why it's been so hard to put herself first this year.
How about you? Are you making progress with your own fitness goals?