When Wendy’s teaching assignment changed from part-time to full-time, she was faced with a dilemma: how could she continue running regularly? By the time she got home from her rural school in central Alberta, it was too dark to run outside. Her solution was to bring her exercise clothes to school two days a week and run after school.
The first year took discipline to keep up with the routine. There were times when Wendy felt too tired, or too “blah” to make the effort. “But I decided it was for my own wellness,” she said. “If I didn’t do this, I’d be the one missing out in the long term.”
Wendy’s commitment to wellness was contagious. When my doctor told me my cholesterol was creeping up and that regular, vigorous exercise could help, I began running four to five times a week. I started by walking briskly with spurts of slow jogging. I mentioned this to Wendy and asked her what she did in winter. She told me how she kept running even when it’s -20˚C. When I expressed my doubts about running in cold weather, Wendy said, “Just try it. If it’s too cold, the worst that can happen is that you have to turn around and go back.” On really cold days she goes to the high school her son attends and runs around the perimeter of the gym. I opted to do aerobics indoors on those days, putting on some upbeat music and drawing from my memory some moves that I did back in the 80s.
My continued conversations with Wendy sparked an idea. “We should start a walking/running club after school for staff. It would be a great wellness activity!” she said.
“I’m in,” I said, although I knew I was too fast for the walkers, and afraid I was too slow for the likes of Wendy. I ran with her one day in the spring, keeping up with her for about five minutes before having to walk to catch my breath. Even though I didn’t last, those five minutes of companionship inspired me.
So when Wendy revisited the idea of an after-hours exercise program as school resumed in the fall, I again said I’d join. This time, we started out six strong: four walkers, one runner and one runner/walker (me). To my surprise, I managed to keep up with Wendy for about fifteen minutes. Wendy, too, was pleased at my progress and mentioned it to others at the school. Before I left that day, another staff member, Tammi, asked me how long I’d been running.
“Only about a year,” I replied.
“Oh, that’s motivating,” Tammi said. “I just started a few months ago and I walk more than I run.”
“That’s how I started,” I said. “Now I can go at least half a mile before walking to catch my breath. And I don’t have to walk as far as I used to before I can run again. I felt quite proud of myself when I managed that half mile before having to slow down,” I admitted.
Tammi, too, had a cholesterol problem. “My doctor said I’d have to do something about it soon or I wouldn’t see my daughter grow up,” she said. Tammi had worked hard at diet and exercise for the past year to bring her cholesterol under control. As a side benefit she had already lost over 100 pounds. “I wish I’d started twenty years ago,” she said. “I feel so much better about myself.”
So how do we balance exercise with all the other obligations we have? First, realize that being healthy is the best gift you can give your family. The healthier you are, the better you can do your job as well. Exercising after work hours admittedly means getting home later, perhaps affecting dinner time. Some options are to pick up take-out food (healthy!) on exercise days. Do you have older children who can get supper started? Perhaps you could cook double or triple meals on the weekends, freeze them, and simply pull one out on exercise day. Wendy is very lucky and has a farmer husband who cooks supper.
Even so, it doesn’t always work out.
“If you have a week when you’ve missed exercising, just tell yourself that next week will be better,” says Wendy. Don’t get down on yourself, because that’s a bad feeling and very anti-motivating. This is perhaps key to success. What is your self-talk when you miss your goals occasionally?
When I started, I didn’t like running. I prefer playing team sports. But I’m getting older, and like a left-out child, not too many people want to play with me anymore. It was hard work to get out there and run. However, I was hoping I could go back to having cream in my coffee and butter on my toast. So I ran. I admit the first seven to ten minutes are the worst, even now. Then for some reason, even though I’m gasping, I feel wonderful. I love the fresh air, I love running the quiet country roads where I live and hearing the birds. I love the feeling I have, knowing that at my age (50) I have increased my physical capabilities rather than experienced slow deterioration. In addition, my stress level has gone down and I no longer need regular trips to the chiropractor.
Don’t let others detract you from doing what you need to do.
“My family thinks I’m crazy,” says Wendy. “They ask me, ‘Are you still running?’ Of course I’m still running.” I, like Wendy, plan to continue with a regular exercise program until I am too feeble.
Find a way that works for you. Listen to your iPod while running, find a partner and learn to play racquetball, swim, whatever. And even if you have to persist in a program that isn’t your favourite, you may be surprised at the intrinsic motivators that decreased weight and happy endorphins give you. And oh, yes—my cholesterol is on its way down.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wanda Bakker has been teaching for four years. She currently teaches kindergarten at Dapp School, AB.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2011 issue.