Sarah Fallin  |  4/25/2024

How Local Mom Changed Physical, Mental Health With Exercise

Even though it was decades ago, I still remember the feeling of my heart beating in my throat as I slid down the wooden bench in gym class as my turn to kick the kickball came closer and closer and closer.

I was always picked last in gym class, never played any team sports, and could never do even a single pull up in front of my classmates for the presidential physical fitness test of the 90s. But now, if I won’t work out at least three times a week, it feels like my life is at least a little bit misaligned. I am one of the least likely people to now consider working out a hobby and crucial part of my life.

It started with the birth of my second child at the very end of 2020. In addition to the pandemic that year, there were a multitude of other intense personal struggles. Then, my new baby arrived in a flurry of a very fast five-hour labor and an unmedicated birth I did not ever intend or think myself capable of. Her arrival at the end of the hardest year of my life showed me my physical and emotional strength.

Between being a full-time career mom of two who wasn’t sleeping through the night in a gradually dissipating pandemic, I didn’t have the margin in my life to add physical activity in for about a year. I researched options throughout the first year of my daughter’s life and did some soul-searching to determine what physical activity would work well within the constraints of my complicated life. I tried to work out a few times before in my life and knew what didn’t work for me. This time, I wanted something affordable that felt like a group fitness class at home.

I purchased an affordable, bare-bones spin bike online. During my first ride, it was so fun to work out in my bedroom to 80s hits I grew up listening to on my family’s boat on the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. I was hooked, but I made a big mistake – I unknowingly picked one of the hardest instructors on my app and a very difficult ride! I was incredibly sore for about a week. I completed a beginner program and moved on to rides that also included a short burst of arm work with light weights. In those first few weeks of working out consistently, I discovered the feeling of endorphins for the first time in my life. I wanted to work out every day but my body was still adjusting. I was sleeping better and had more patience with my children. When we took evening walks as a family on a hilly loop in our neighborhood, I wasn’t winded and didn’t have to hand the stroller over to my husband to push on the biggest hill any more.

I learned that I could improve my performance on the bike by building my core strength, so I added in a program that had me doing five to 10 minutes of core work several times a week. Within weeks, I could get myself off the floor after playing with my kids without having to roll into an all-fours position and hoisting myself up with my arms! I could stand to wear my now toddler daughter in a baby carrier for longer periods of time.

Once I saw the relationship between cardio, strength, and my daily life, I started adding in regular strength training exercises alongside my cardio. Through the strength exercises, I learned the relationship of breathwork with the body. You have to exhale during the exertion. I started doing meditation videos to fall asleep at night and my struggles to fall asleep nearly disappeared.

Now, I work out at least three times a week, including cardio and strength. I strive to attend a few different in-person group fitness classes each month to keep things social and exciting and to test what my body can do. I’ve discovered rowing, Pilates, Barre, aerial, TRX, boot-camp style workouts, hot yoga, and more. There’s something out there for everyone. I even work out on vacation because I love it that much and know it’s that important for my mental and physical health.

Working out makes me feel more confident in my body after the impacts of childbearing. I feel at home in my own body and have learned how to listen to it. It makes me more confident when I ask questions and advocate for my own health when going to the doctor because of that knowledge. I love working out on a bad day; it’s so hard to get up on the bike when all I want to do is go to bed but I never regret taking the time to take care of my body and my mind once I’ve started.

Tips:
  • Find what you like and keep the intensity low as you build confidence, skills, and strength
  • Add in intensity, duration, and higher frequency
  • Build in variety
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Conversation

Harshit Behl
Friday, May 24, 2024

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