"Enough" already: Defining it for ourselves

This fall, I am oh so excited to be teaching a course at Western called “Physical Activity and Health.” We are going to cover a wide array of topics from some exercise physiology to health promotion and diving into the research on how physical activity and exercise affect health. Needless to say, I’ve been doing a lot of planning and learning a lot myself in a new way--nothing like teaching to really make you dive into things!

One of the weeks of the course is dedicated to the physical activity guidelines, and--spoiler alert--I’ve got a plan to have my students take a look at their own lives as a way to start the class. Essentially, they’ll do a 24-hour reflection on how they’ve spent their time, and beg the question, “are you doing enough?” when it comes to physical activity. Since only 10% or so of Canadians are aware of the guidelines, my guess is the class won’t come into the class knowing the recommendations--or even knowing that they exist. While I’ll use it as a way to segue into a discussion on the international and Canadian physical activity recommendations, sticking it in there got me to thinking: how do we define enough for ourselves, anyways? 

So, where do our ideas about what’s enough working out or physical activity come from? Instagram? The people we follow on strava? Books? Blogs? Doctors? Magazines? My hunch is that we don’t often stop and ask if we’re doing enough and to think about how we define that. I know personally, I’ve fallen prey to the more is better mentality at all costs, without thinking about things like how efficient I’m being with my time, how I’m prioritizing all the goals in my life--not just the performance-related ones, and how exercise is fitting into an overall healthy--or not so healthy--lifestyle. Sometimes, a big training session might be all an athlete does in a day, except of course crush some ice cream or maybe pizza (or both) as a reward whilst laying on the couch. While there’s something to be said for recovery, what I’ve realized is that it’s important to look at the big picture, stepping back and looking at our exercise in the context of our lives. I know that as someone who surrounds myself with active, motivated individuals, there’s a lot of talk of training in my day-to-day life. It’s not unusual for me and my triathlon friends to run into each other at our second training session of the day and think nothing of it. The weightlifters I know are pretty clear about which days in their lives are “rest days” and which are for getting their training sessions in. But stepping out of what we take for granted as “normal” is an opportunity to really look at what we’re doing and see how it’s working for us.

Are we sitting around all day and then trying to make up for it? Are we discounting the activities like mowing the lawn, gardening, or going for a walk? Are we using our training as an excuse to let other priorities go? To sustain unhealthy habits? These aren’t questions that we just ask ourselves spontaneously to ponder, but I think they’re worth asking. Even when we have built a healthy habit like a regular exercise program, it’s oh so important to check in and make sure that it’s fitting into an overall healthy lifestyle, and getting clear about what that healthy looks like for us.. And while I don’t think that we should simply say, “Okay, 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity this week--check! I’m headed to the couch!” I do think that we should make sure we are defining what that healthy balance looks like for ourselves. For years I blogged at a site called Happy is the New Healthy and I still firmly believe what that site was all about--it’s up to us to decide how health needs to be defined so that it serves and sustains us.

So, with that, I’m curious--how do you know what’s enough? If you can’t think of an answer, chances are you’ll never be satisfied. Without that idea of what’s sufficient, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of “not enough”--an all-too-pervasive feeling I think most of us struggle with at one time or another. There’s great power in defining things on purpose, giving ourselves tangible notions we can check in with. If you haven’t thought about it, what better time than now? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

In happiness and in health,
xo Cheryl