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Getting Your Exercise and Self-Care Back on Track when Training Ends

It’s surprisingly easy for women athletes to lose their focus when training ends, plans change, bodies change, life happens. At 21, this college swimmer is graduating, and her realistic assessment of the difficulties of managing her own self-care and fitness apply to the struggles of every woman for whose life has revolved around competitive sports:

“I have lived by a strict schedule my whole life. Everything has been planned — our whole lives have had a plan. . . . we were told where to be and when, what to eat, what to drink, the list can go on forever. . . . You are used to the grind — the early mornings and spending time with people who enjoyed doing something you loved — no matter how much you wanted to hate it. And then, it is over. The cold hard truth is, no matter if an athlete goes professional or not, everyone’s athletic career has to come to an end. To find a schedule, to find a way to manage your diet and fitness alone, is like starting a new life.”1

Do you relate to this challenge? What does exercise mean to you when it’s not instrumental to hitting a specific target? Why should you drive yourself to work out when the pain is there but the gain isn’t clear? What’s your motivation now?

Research shows that regular movement not only staves off the physiological precursors of illness, even small amounts of movement boost energy and mood. So here’s an even better question to ask yourself: How can you reinvent enjoyable physical movement to match who you are, where you are, and what you need today?

Rethink Your Assumptions about “What Counts” as Exercise

“Exercise” isn’t just intense workouts, long bouts, and special clothing. It also includes an enormous and varied range of physical movement that you can fit in virtually anywhere, any time.

• Paradigm shift: Everything counts. This means that all of the physical movement you do, regardless of intensity or duration, adds up. Movement is a gift you can choose to give yourself multiple times during most days. Want some of that?

• Strategy: Be flexible. If you can’t make your scheduled workout, do something else. Take a walk, run upstairs, walk the dog, ride your bike to the store, close your office door and dance to your iPod for ten minutes. Strategize to find hidden opportunities for movement every day. Once you give yourself permission to count everything, brand new opportunities open up for you. Download this free It’s Your Move! poster to discover the hidden gifts of movement that exist in your day.

Rethink Your Assumptions about Motivation

If you’re used to having your coach schedule your workouts, and you’ve always used competition as motivation, it can be difficult to find your own motivation for keeping fit.

• Paradigm shift: Immediate gratification works. Our brains are hardwired to be motivated by what makes us happy now, not by what we think we “should” do or will benefit from in weeks, months, or years.

• Strategy: Do what feels good, not what you think you should do. We want to do more of what brings us joy. If sweating in the gym seems like work but walking in nature seems like fun, do it!

Rethink Your Assumptions about Self-care:

When competition ends, the benefits of regular physical movement becomes even more important to your daily functioning.

• Paradigm shift: Caring for yourself is strategic, not selfish. If you’re not taking time to nurture your own sense of well-being and self-care, you’ll have reduced energy and enthusiasm for family, friends, and business. Fill out the What Sustains Us, We Sustain worksheet in No Sweat to understand the potency of self-care to fuel what matters most in your life.

• Strategy: For one day, just believe that your own self-care is a real priority because it actually supports the roles and goals you care most about. Notice how differently you approach meeting your physical movement needs.

The Sustainable Cycle of Self-Care, [refer to image above copy], shows that when we are physically active as a way to fuel what matters most in our lives, it converts consistent daily movement into a compelling need that we stay motivated to keep fulfilling.

Bottom line: Stop thinking of it as “exercise,” or as something you have to do or should be doing. Instead, start thinking of physical movement as a gift that feels great and does great things: the fuel that powers all of your daily activities, helps you take care of business, enhances your mood, and most importantly, helps you feel like you every day, even after training ends.

About the book:
No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness translates twenty years of research on exercise and motivation into a simple four-point program, helping readers understand why most people lose their motivation to exercise, drop out of gyms, and dislike exercising. No Sweat was written to help people who have struggled to stay motivated as well as the professionals and organizations that work with them. Practical, proven, and loaded with inspiring stories, No Sweat shows how to help people convert exercise from a chore into a gift, motivating a lifetime of exercise.

About the Author:
MICHELLE SEGAR, PH.D., motivation scientist and author of No Sweat! How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness is the leading authority on what motivates people to choose and maintain physically active lives. Segar is Director of the Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center (SHARP) at the University of Michigan, and Chairs the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan’s Communications Committee, charged with advising the Plan on more persuasive messaging for American people and policymakers. Her expertise has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Prevention, Oprah and her corporate clients include global organizations such as Adidas, Walmart, and PepsiCo. She also ran with the Olympic Torch in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband and son. For more information, michellesegar.com

Footnote 1: Clarissa Myatt, “Now What? How Athletes Adjust To Life After Their Glory Days Are Done” Elite Daily, Dec. 30. 2014