When We Prioritize Exercise, We’re Prioritizing “Me”. Is That Okay?
I knew it was only a matter of time before I got an Apple watch. Running with an iPhone strapped to my arm is practically like wearing a television.
But I’m disappointed my watch isn’t able to transcribe my thoughts while I’m running because that’s when I do my best and most creative thinking. Within 5 minutes of finishing my run, I can’t remember half of my ideas.
If I’m on the trail for two hours, that’s a lot of prime stuff in my head down the drain.
What made me think about this was an article I came across a few years ago, just a year into my own meaningful exercise regimen, in Time magazine by Joshua Steimle, an entrepreneur who says he prioritizes exercise over anything else in his life, including his business. For him, if exercise stops, then everything else begins to fall apart.
I totally get that but I smirked a bit when I read the article and even now, 3 years later, when I think about it, and I think about it often. Call me bitchy but this strategy is much, much harder for women to pull off.
I know there are plenty of women – especially younger women just starting their careers and families – who do it all, but when I look back at my own experience my priority was anything or anyone but me.
I worked full time as a professional so it’s not like I was a helicopter mom. Trust me they found plenty of opportunity to go stealth. But I structured my time so that they were well cared for. They had healthy food, a tidy home, a peaceful spot to sleep and do homework, lots of enrichment and access to theater and baseball.
There was a lot of driving around and spending time at activities that they enjoyed that I had no idea existed. All of it was totally fun and some of the people I treasure the most are the parents of my children’s friends and even some of my children’s friends themselves. But this took organization and time management. I was the CEO of my family, and sorry my own fitness needs just never popped up on page 1 of my Filofax.
You hear it all the time.
When the kids go to camp I’ll work out.
When the kids leave for college I can go to the gym.
In fact I didn’t even think about exercising until both kids were out of the house and my husband took a job in Philadelphia. It took my complete family to evacuate my house in order for me to make my health and well being a priority.
Meaningful exercise takes so much effort to pull off on a regular basis because you have to be copious about your scheduling – your work, your workouts, your recovery, your eating, your sleeping, your social activities, your laundry.
But the payoff is completely worth it, so of course I agree with Steimle. My most creative and productive thinking does happen while I’m exercising, and exercise makes me better at everything else going on in my life.
It’s just harder for us.
Not so much now but definitely over the last three years, I would often get that knee-jerk pang of guilt as I prioritized, or even scheduled, my exercise because that meant I was prioritizing me.
Who does that?
Not a lot of women I know. I’m not going to speak for men but traditionally I think men are more comfortable putting their own needs over others. I’m not suggesting men need to change – I think in this way, men have it right. We could learn something from the guys here.
Sometimes I'll feel guilty about putting my exercise first because that also means I’m being hyper aware of my nutrition and nearly obsessive about my sleep. If I’ve got to be at the gym at 5 or 6 am in order to get in a good workout or training before turning up at my office, I’ve got to be in my bed with my head on my pillow and the lights out by 10 pm. And that means heading upstairs by 9 pm, because I still need to wash my face and brush my teeth, do my PT exercises, and get in a little bit of reading. Six hours of sleep is a minimum 7 days/week, and 7 to 8 hours is optimum.
You probably know this too but if you’re losing your focus and eating crap or drinking too much alcohol and not getting enough sleep it doesn’t matter how much you workout or run on the weekends. So why do I feel guilty about making my focus my priority? Because often paying close attention to your training schedule, what you eat, drink, and what time you turn out the lights, can seem antisocial to friends and family.
Or that you’re selfish, that you care more about yourself than others.
Steimle’s approach to exercise is a paradigm shift for me, and I get how much of a challenge it is for women to navigate his path. We’ve got it together in so many other ways – this one is tough for us.
One of favorite books is by strength coach Dan John. In Can You Go, one of the first points the author makes is how many of his clients, especially women, focus on what they want to do instead of what they need to do.
Women want to look better and feel better, and they want to have more energy. They want to look like they did a million years ago. What they need, he says, is to do their mobility work and eat their vegetables.
This is what we should be asking ourselves:
What do we need to do?
What do we do next?
The answers will be different for everyone, but in every case, we need to make these questions a priority over anything else.
Reuel Tizabi, my first trainer, once told me it’s hard for people to make improvements in their lives when they are unable to move comfortably.
As in me.
As in maybe you, too.
We got this, ladies.
Carolee Belkin Walker is a wellness blogger, podcaster, and freelance journalist whose work appears in the Washington Post, Women’s Running, the Chicago Tribune, the Toronto Sun, the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, the Baltimore Sun, the Tyler Morning Telegraph, and others. Her book, Getting My Bounce Back, includes chapters by Reuel Tizabi, a certified personal trainer and a doctor of physical therapy student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.