In this post, I'll share an experience I recently had when I participated in a 5K run with my husband, provide some hope for the unathletic, and explain the "elite 5%."
A Little Background
My husband is naturally gifted at running. He's also very competitive in this way. When he signs up for a race, he's "in it to win it." He's the kind of guy who set several running records in high school and earned scholarships in track and cross country, which paid his way through college.
Me? Not so much. I've shared my athletic career before. It's embarrassing. I was always better in academics, which is where I focused my efforts. I was the kind of girl who used my debate skills to get myself out of PE class, so I wouldn't have to "waste" my time and could load up on honors classes to prepare for college. (Yes, I'm that much of a nerd... How ironic is it that I am now writing about the importance of regular exercise?)
How I Roll (or run, rather)
These days I typically run 4-5 days a week, but my reasons, goals, and approach to running are quite different from my husband's. For example, I don't worry about my speed. My goal is simply to get my heart rate up for at least 30 minutes and sweat a little. That's it.
I usually run a little over 3 miles (it took a while to get there -- in the beginning I was gasping for air at 1/4 mile). Sometimes I run farther, sometimes less, but 3 miles is a good distance for me, in terms of staying consistent and avoiding injury. I would say I push myself to the point of "moderately uncomfortable." I could push myself harder, but it wouldn't be as enjoyable to me, and it would be difficult to get myself to do it.
The byproducts of this regular activity are numerous. It improves my mood. It gives me more energy. It gets me outside in the fresh air. I think more clearly when I run. I also know that physical activity is like "medicine" in that it helps to prevent and improve a ton of illnesses, from diabetes, to hypertension, to cancer, to migraines, to osteoporosis... (The list goes on and on.)
I often walk a mile or so after running, just because I enjoy this time so much. I like other forms of exercise too (variety is a good thing), but I've come to enjoy running much more in the past couple years.
So my husband and I signed up for a local 5K in late April, which had over 7,000 participants. He ran this race last year, while the kids and I cheered him on. This year I decided to participate too.
How'd we do? My husband got 11th place overall, with a time of 17:36. I got 1,595th place overall, with a time of 29:54.
My husband was pretty happy with his performance, although he was bummed he didn't make the top 10. I was all high-fives and fist bumps that I made it in the top 2,000 (though I'll admit that there were some stroller-pushing participants who passed me).
Although I don't care much about sports or competition, I had a great time at the 5K. It was nice to be surrounded by people of all ages and abilities, coming together for a good cause, taking part in a healthy activity, and motivating each other.
I seriously got chills as I ran past groups of bystanders who were cheering me on. I was thinking, How nice... They don't seem to care that I'm not even good at this sort of thing!
But then I realized something. Despite my lack of natural athletic ability, I'm actually doing far better than most US adults. That's because 95% of US adults get less than 30 minutes of physical activity daily (this is according to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition). So technically that puts me in the top 5%. That's pretty motivating! Part of me feels proud of this accomplishment. Another part of me feels sad that this is the case in our country.
Hope for the Unathletic
Whether you're talented or not, competitive or not, I encourage you to join the elite 5% of Americans who make the choice to engage in physical activity for at least 30 minutes each day. It takes some planning and prioritizing, and you have to figure out what works for you (it doesn't have to be running). But once you make this a habit, you'll be hooked. You'll wish you had done it sooner.
Trust me, if a person like me can learn to love exercise, I know you can too. :)
One More Important Thing
Please talk with your health care provider before beginning a new exercise regimen. Depending on your age and health condition, a stress test might be recommended. Your health care provider can also give recommendations on types of exercise that will benefit your unique situation. You should promptly discontinue any activity that causes chest pain, excessive shortness of breath, light-headedness, nausea, or other worrisome symptoms, and seek immediate medical attention.
This post was originally posted on May 16, 2016.