Move More and Feel Better: Is the Value of Exercise Complicated?

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As I get older, “move more and feel better” has become my mantra. No matter what exercise I choose, each day that I move more, I feel better.

With warmer weather on the horizon, my thoughts are turning to summer adventures, exercise, and finding joy in feeling my best for my favorite season.

Finding time and motivation to move is not always so easy. Every fall, I resolve to have a great winter. Bundle up, get out there, and feel invigorated. Exercise indoors at home – there are so many options! Every spring, I kiss the ground and think weakly, I made it. I try, I really do. I keep up an exercise routine, try to eat healthfully, and get my rest. I even try to give myself a break from the dark and cold during the winter months – I allow myself to rest when needed, turn down invitations (in a normal year) that will cut into my sleep, cancel obligations if the roads will induce stressful, white-knuckle driving, and overall, be more gentle on myself.

All the effort notwithstanding, somewhere after the December holidays, my joy for life dwindles. I am certain that there are many ways to find happiness as a woman as well as a mom. One thing that helps me feel better is being active.

But it’s important for me to recognize that being “active” has looked so different over the years. There are certainly many days where I need to take my own advice. But I have learned to allow myself to keep at it, have fun, and now as a mom of older teens, continue to do my best in every season.

A mother and daughter pose for a photo along a rocky seashore.
Walking the beach with my daughter in Ogunquit, Maine.

Move More and Feel Better With Your Tribe

I’m not really a natural at any sport, I’m just enthusiastic in my own introverted way. This is good and bad. It gives me the courage to walk into a Pilates class stacked with marathon runners who are a full three decades younger than I am. It lets me dream about trying Pickleball. It also lets me make a total fool of myself.

My exercise career began with tennis as a teen, then rowing college crew, on to running and aerobics in grad school. Thirty years later, I’ve come full circle to walking, hiking, and a variety of organized classes. Through the years, I’ve flirted with all different kinds of yoga, Crossfit, Pilates, and a barre class here and there. I even tried hip-hop one fateful afternoon.

A team of girls who play tennis, dressed in red shirts and white shorts, posing for a picture.
That time in 1986 we were the high school state tennis champs.

The hip-hop class was effective at embarrassing my teens but that’s about it. Crossfit was the intense experience I sought (and it felt so tough to be “a Crossfitter”) but the heavy weights and deep soreness were hard on my body. My current combination of yoga and Pilates is working really well. This introvert loves being able to be part of a class and at the same time retreat to the sanctuary of my mat. Yoga Six, my current, untraditional yoga studio, is warm and bathed in colored lights and pulsating music in a solitary, albeit unlikely, club-for-yogis atmosphere. My Pilates experience at The Body Lab and Peace of Mind Pilates provides an awesome stretch as well as a powerful strength and cardio workout, that seems to be, like Goldilocks’ bed, just right, right now.

The ideal choice and combination of exercise to move more and feel better is different for every person, each day, in every year of life. It’s a moving target!

Just Move

“Change happens through movement and movement heals.” -Joseph Pilates

Here’s the thing: I am not the most athletic person in the world, or the room, or even compared to the person next to me. If my Fitbit were to recommend a plan, on many days it would simply say, move more and feel better – even if it’s a walk to the corner. That’s the thing about movement- every bit of it counts, and it’s accessible to everyone.

Cursive writing on a chalkboard that says "You are one Pilates class away from a better day."
The sign at my Pilates studio, The Body Lab.

The fact that there will always be someone better, faster, stronger is an important lesson. As a mom, I talk with my teens about realistic goals in athletics, academics, and life. We are learning to put our achievements in perspective, even when we have excelled. Positive or negative, our judgment of ourselves is, solely, ours to own.

Everyone has opinions: don’t pick up what they put down. Just get out there and do what makes your body feel good.

One icy winter’s night, I picked my way down a stone path after dinner and happened to catch the older man in front of me in midair as he fell, walking to his inn suite. For some reason, I saw the slip coming and was right behind him. He had a bit to drink and blurted out, from my arms, “You’re a sturdy woman.” I’m never going to be thin, or lithe, or lean, or any of the things society tells us are desirable qualities for a woman to have. I’m not sure if the gentleman meant what he said as a compliment, or if it was meant to proffer thanks, albeit rather awkwardly. But this incident gives me something tangible. When my confidence is shaken, I want to shout out to the universe, I’m damn sturdy! Got it?

Just a few weeks ago, I was chatting with two other women after Pilates class about maintaining a certain level of fitness. A fellow classmate came over and empathized with the day-to-day work of being active, and then told us, “You can always get it back.” Get it back? I responded (and maybe it was more of a retort):

“I AM back.”

We don’t actually go anywhere, my friends. It’s hard for some people to see that. After all, where are we, if not right here? This is it, folks. Acknowledging and embracing this lets us move through all the ridiculousness. The emotion of “not being there” is not productive; I will not penalize myself for doing the best I can at any stage of life.

A teenaged girl holds a toddler on a wooded path.
One of the first outings I remember as a toddler is being with my sister, Christine, in the forest.

Yes, maybe I could get stronger, and there have been times that I have trained and pushed to successfully reach a competitive, athletic goal. These days, I’m not on a quest for anything (except being sturdy, I suppose). I’m happy to be right where I am. My movement brings me deep contentment.

Be Kind to Yourself

My goal is to stay in shape, keep up with my kids, feel fluid, and see and do as much as I want to outside for as long as I can. I wish the same for anyone who wants it, and there is a growing movement toward making it easier for anyone to feel like they, too, can get out there. Influencers like Montpelier’s Mirna Valerio and Jenny Bruso, and their online communities, Fat Girl Running and Unlikely Hikers, are making tremendous progress in helping people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages feel more accepted in their active pursuits; novels like Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer and Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins talk about the issues associated with body image and acceptance. I appreciate them and their messages!

A Black, femme, fat woman with a huge smile poses on a dirt road with a bicycle.
Mirna Valerio, Montpelier’s ultrarunner, adventurer, author, and fitness influencer. Photo used with permission.

Through two kids, three moves, four jobs, five schools for my kids, and at least 25 dark winters, exercise has helped me feel my best.

I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones… I actually enjoy exercising. In fact, I couldn’t live without it, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s important to create commitments to move more and feel better, and be kind to yourself by taking into account energy level, age, and choice of activity.

I have learned that it’s easy for me to overdo it, whether it’s a post-workout sneaking ache in my knees or ankles, the straight-up snap of my ACL four years ago on the summit of Sterling Mountain at Smugglers’ Notch, or a tide of exhaustion that is so salty, so deep that I lose my patience with my family. I’ve learned that if I don’t listen to my body, exercise will catch up with me. So most days, I try to catch up with it first.

In many ways, I’m always catching up, and I’m still growing up. I’m still looking for the kindest ongoing relationship with movement, in the context of life. As I continue to strive to keep that balance, I will consider this “sturdy woman” to be BACK!

What is your relationship with exercise? Has the way you choose to move changed over time?

Move More and Feel Better: Is the Value of Exercise Complicated?

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Originally from Connecticut, Vicky lived on a farm in Cabot for 22 years before recently moving to South Burlington seeking greater opportunity in high school education. She is a mom to a teen boy and girl, and a Goldendoodle who grew up to look more like a poodle. A reticent soccer mom and former lawyer who owns her own marketing and communications business, she spends most of her work time playing with words. She mourns the demise of the serial comma. Don’t ask her if she passed the bar exam (she did) and why she doesn’t have her own website if she writes them for others (she’s been working on her own site for about six years). She’s outside every day, and you may find her sitting in the sun in January, wrapped in blankets. Swinger of birches and lover of all things Vermont, she hikes, paddles, cooks gluten-free and vegan food, reads meaningless novels, and is a recent Pilates convert. She loves to visit her happy place any time of year in Ogunquit, Maine.

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