My personal path to an active lifestyle.
Someone once told me “life is moving, you should too” , while explaining to me why they liked to exercise. It stuck. At the time, I was already running regularly, but I didn’t always like it. Now I enjoy it all the time. I see exercising as the door to a better — physical and mental — wellbeing and a deeper understanding of oneself.
I started exercising to lose weight. The beginning of university life was all about studying, socializing and partying. Exercising passed last in my list of priorities and I forgot to take care of myself. Feeding on fast-food, chocolate and coffee, especially during the exam period, I had gained weight without realising it. My last year of university, good friends, and an extra size of pants finally made me acknowledge it. This motivated me to get moving!
I started taking some yoga lessons: on-campus, at yoga studios, and finally at SiscoeGym where I discovered Boot Camp. I joined the CrossFit style class for a good year, attracted by the friendly, supportive, and encouraging coach and colleagues. I started to like the feeling of muscle strain. I felt stronger and more confident.
Then I started running. I had joined a recreational soccer team for the first time. I was a good sprinter thanks to strength training. However, my poor cardiovascular capacity was limiting, needing to recover for two entire minutes in the middle of the game after a single field-crossing sprint!
Motivated to improve my performance in the soccer field, I started running. I would run 5 km three times a week and do strength training on the other days. I made sure I was active everyday, putting on music when I was not feeling motivated. Loud and upbeat music helped me disconnect from my body and ignore that little voice asking “are we there yet?”
Change of mindset
I then moved to Annecy to work at CIXI. This wonderful place in the French Alps is immersed in nature, right by the lake and surrounded by mountains. It is a true playground for outdoor activities such as ski touring, climbing, trail running. I quickly got into all of these activities, starting with trail running.
I re-discovered running with trail running. It was no longer about keeping a constant speed and counting every second of suffering left during the last kilometer. Instead, trail running was about listening to your body and your heart to keep a constant effort, rather than a constant speed. The terrain changes: it goes up and down; it can be dusty, rocky or snowy. It is your speed that adapts to the terrain, not your heart.
With this practice I realized that exercising wasn’t always about pushing the limits, that a light jog also feels good, allowing me to get some fresh air, observe the landscape and clear my thoughts. I loved the feeling of physical and mental lightness after a run.
“I loved the feeling of physical and mental lightness after a run”
The role of effort
I started alternating my runs: somedays I wanted to breathe heavily, feel the muscle strain, and sweat. Other days I just wanted to move for the pleasure of it. The intense runs helped me progress and improve my fitness level to then be capable of fully enjoying a light run where I’d stay in a comfortable effort zone.
The psychological and mental benefits of exercising
I discovered some unexpected benefits from exercising: beyond a stronger physical condition and higher self-confidence, I had gained emotional stability.
While running, I had time to think about all sorts of things that occupied my mind: past events, challenges to come, positive or negative. Thoughts would play in my head forward, backwards, upside down… until I was able to take distance from them. All of a sudden, the seemingly biggest problem would show its true insignificant size. It was all a matter of perspective. Allowing the mind to be cooperative and compassionate rather than defensive.
Thoughts would play in my head forward, backwards, upside down… until I was able to take distance from them.
I bike to work everyday, 10 km per trip, that is 100 km per week, or more than 4,000 km per year! It is one of the best ways I have to integrate exercise into my days. I feel lucky I have this opportunity. Aside from helping keep a good metabolism, it allows me to gently wake-up my body in the mornings, and clear my thoughts on evenings. It is also a great moment to reflect on those tough questions I have not been able to answer, as well as easier ones like “what’s for dinner tonight?”
My strategy for consistency
Just do it
Sometimes we think about it too long before we go out for a run, trying to motivate ourselves to step out of the door. Do not overthink it. Just get dressed and step out. You will feel better once you are outside. And you will feel even better after a 30 min run, or walk, than if you spent 30 minutes thinking about it.
Do not be harsh on yourself. If you do not feel like going out, don’t. You deserve to rest or to have a lazy day even when you had planned otherwise. Get over your decision and do not feel guilty about it, it is counterproductive. Just fully enjoy your day off, without remorse to come back stronger the next day.
Do not force yourself to do an intense run if you do not feel like it. You risk to be put-off and have difficulty finding motivation for your next run. Just listen to yourself, do what feels right, only as far as pleasure goes
Sometimes it might be dark, cold and rainy outside. Do not let the external elements discourage you. You can take measures to be comfortable during most conditions: a hat for the rain, extra layers for the cold, and a headlamp for the dark. You might be happy to realise that you will enjoy these conditions more than you expected; they bring diversity to the landscape and the practice.
The real reason behind staying active
Unlocking the joy of moving is key to embracing an active lifestyle, which is important for our wellbeing, physical and mental, and our long term vitality. Daily exercise helps us stay strong and capable throughout time, slowing down the effect of the years on our bodies. In a more indirect way, it also helps us filter out the noise of our lives, letting us focus on what really matters.
I found outdoor activities and nature played an important role in the development and appreciation of this more subtle benefit of staying active. I feel lucky to be living in an environment that supports this lifestyle, and working for a company that seeks to empower people to be active.
I hope my story can inspire others to get closer to nature and to be active for all the benefits it brings. Myself, I still have lots of learning to do, I will continue to explore new ways and learn from others… and that is the beauty of life: it is moving, so should we.
Nina Omerovic, CIXI Team
Originally published at https://www.cixi.life on February 19, 2021.