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November 19th, 2003

Exercise + Guilt = Stress

If you think working out rivals a trip to the dentist, read on...

 
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I, along with millions of others signed up for a gym membership last January.

I’m also a health and fitness writer , though you’d never know it from the way I whine about that whole “no pain, no gain” clich. I guess it’s partly because it stinks to feel pressured into anything, and boy, is the pressure on to get into shape.

Exercise lowers stress, but I’m stressed about exercising
As recently as two weeks ago a report was released that stated the more vigorous the exercise you do, the more you lower your stress level . Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m terrified of going to a spinning class , not coordinated enough for a step class, and too easily bored by the treadmill. So where does that leave me?

Completely stressed out. I was doing pilates for a while (it’s sort of a cousin of yoga), but it wasn’t making me sweat through my gym shorts. A friend recommended I supplement the pilates with some “cardio.” It was getting complicated.

They don’t serve wheatgrass smoothies at martini bars for a reason
Speaking of complicated matters, the world is pretty pressure-filled right now. I don’t know many people, for example, who are feeling 100 percent secure at work if they haven’t already lost their job. And worrying about the state of the world outside the country can also become overwhelming.

So making time for your personal life outside of work (or school) can be difficult. In Manhattan, there’s a health club on every corner and lots of people skip their hour lunch to hit the gym for a quickie. I couldn’t imagine going to such lengths. The truth is that if a friend called and invited me to dinner or drinks I would gladly skip my scheduled workout. Because human contact enriches me and makes me happy. Contact with an elliptical machine? Not so much.

But undeniably, by March, I was starting to feel down about my lack of fitness commitment.

Release pressure from gym bag and self
Then the other day I noticed something. I’d been absent from Mass a few times in the past couple weeks. Catholic guilt aside, I realized that I missed being there. That going to Mass is actually a stress reliever for me.

It became clear that I was treating exercise the way I treated Mass a few years back�like I’d rather be anywhere but there because I felt pressured to attend. It wasn’t until I started going to church for my own reasons and not because I felt obligated that I started getting something out of it.

So I decided to listen to the voice inside my head (which was telling me to scrap the gym) and spend a little time thinking about the kind of activity I might enjoy and benefit from. So I’ve opted to go back to pilates and not worry so much about the quantity of sweat. It’s more about the quality.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out a way to make it all fit into my life: God, relationships, exercise-oh, and that martini, too.

 
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The Author : Lori Yacovone
Lori Yacovone writes from New York City.
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