This post has been on my “to write” list for a while, but I thought with the onslaught of holiday gluttony and new years resolution speak about to hit us hard, now was a fitting time to talk about how a regular exercise routine has changed my life for the better.
Before we dive in, I wanted to say several quick things. One, when I say exercise routine in the context of this post, I don’t mean a specific workout program or fitness app, I’m just talking about the act of working out on a regular basis. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know I’m a huge fan of indoor cycling and Orangetheory, but those are just the things *I* love to do—those things are probably different for you! Exercise shouldn’t be something you dread doing—it’s not supposed to be torture or penance for a weekend of overeating. It’s supposed be about moving your body, sweating a bit, and feeling the power of those endorphins. If you hate what you’re doing for exercise, it’s not going to last very long or be a positive force in your life.
Two, as juicy as they are, this definitely isn’t a weight loss post. I’ve maybe lost five or so pounds since I started working out regularly, but I’ve toned up and am more physically fit than I’ve been in a long time. (I can run my third grade mile pace, so that’s gotta count for something!) Anytime I want to drop a few lbs, I clean up my diet and cut down on drinking. Exercise can definitely help with weight loss, but you can’t out run a bad diet! (Or, at least, my metabolism can’t.)
Lastly, I think there are some seasons of life where we’re better at exercising and eating clean, and other seasons in life when those things fall to the wayside. So I just wanted to say that if you’re in a season of life where exercise and diet can’t always be a priority, that’s more than okay. You’ll pick it up again when you can or you’re ready or maybe it’ll be a slow build to a new routine. In the meantime, just find ways to be kind to yourself about the whole thing. As you’ll read below, I’ve definitely been there—and life is too short to not enjoy the things we love.
When I was in college, I had a pretty consistent exercise routine that I (somehow) managed to maintain for all four years I was there. I’d go to the AFC (aquatics + fitness center for those of you non-UVA folks) almost every afternoon or evening Monday through Thursday, hop on the elliptical for 45-60 minutes, and then maybe lift some weights or do a quick ab routine if I felt like it. On top of that, I walked at least 30-60 minutes around Grounds everyday, and let me tell you, those Charlottesville hills kept me in tip-top shape.
After graduation, I moved home and started working full time. I lived at home with my parents for three months before I moved to Arlington, and during that time, despite having a sedentary job, I lost about ten pounds because I wasn’t going out every night. Instead of hitting up the AFC after class, my mom and I would walk two laps around our relatively large neighborhood every night after I got home from work. When I moved to Arlington that fall, I swapped out our neighborhood walks for the gym at my apartment, and did a great job getting myself there pretty much every night I didn’t have plans and, many times, on Saturday or Sunday mornings.
Then, I started grad school two nights a week after work, and something just had to give. I let my regular exercise routine go, instead choosing to prioritize work, school, this blog, and my social life. Sure, I snuck in a workout every now and then, but not with the regularity of before.
Those two years of my life were extremely stressful for obvious reasons, and by the second year of grad school, my anxiety levels were at an all time high and impacting me mentally and psychically—my mind was constantly racing, my heart rate running after it. Though exercise is most of the most common releases for stress and anxiety recommended by just about everyone, I still didn’t prioritize going to the gym or even getting myself moving in simple ways, like talking a quick walk at lunch.
When I finished grad school in December 2016, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I went into 2017 with the goal of recovering from the intense grind of the two years prior. Though my stress levels dropped since a major stressor was removed, I began to realize that I needed a proactive way to manage my stress and anxiety levels moving forward so that I’d have better tools the next time a period of intensity rolled around.
I picked spin class because my best friend Molly and I had taken a few spin classes together before, and I loved the music and the energy those classes offered. So when I hopped back on a bike that Tuesday night, I was excited—and a bit nervous. (I was terrible at clipping in and setting up my bike!) Luckily, I loved that first class and the endorphin boost it gave me, and I decided to sign up for the same class next week. After that second class, I decided that I could easily start going to two classes a week, and signed up for a 20-pack of classes.
One class lead to the next, and overtime, I became a regular at my spin studio. I befriended my favorite instructors, first in the studio, and then outside the studio. I made friends with fellow riders. I booked “my bike” weeks in advance. I learned how to easily clip in and clip off the bike, and, after way too long, bought my own pair of spin shoes.
Around the same time, I signed up for my first Orangetheory class as a way to vary my workout. I loved the mix of running, rowing, and weighted floor exercises those classes offered, and was addicted to seeing my heart rate get stronger overtime. Like at my spin studio, I eventually found my regular routine—my favorite treadmill, my favorite instructors, my favorite gals and guys to chat with before class.
In addition to a great workout, my exercise routine gave me that “third place,” I was craving since grad school ended—the place you go besides home and work. It also gave me an amazing alley to meet new friends and get to know people in my community I would have never otherwise crossed paths with. The people I met working out are now friends I happy hour with, grab salads with after class, and this fall, I even went to the wedding of two friends I met in spin class. I’m so grateful that the exercise classes I’ve enrolled in foster a sense of community over competition.
But even more than that, once I started exercising regularly, my stress and anxiety levels dropped dramatically. Creating a regular exercise routine for myself is the best investment I could have ever made for my mental health—and the weeks I don’t hit my classes at least twice, I definitely notice the difference. It’s amazing what an hour getting your blood flowing—without your phone in-hand!—can do for you. I now have a healthy way to deal with stress and anxiety that also provides me a great avenue to be social and connect with my community—a true win-win.
Exercise has truly changed my life and allowed me to be a happier, stronger, less-stressed version of my best self.
Starting a new habit is always the hardest part. I’d say it took me a solid six months before I felt like heading off to an exercise class after work felt like my normal routine—something I didn’t think about during the day, something I simply did out of habit. I used to take the cutest purses to work, and now I take my big ol’ gym bag—and you know what, I wouldn’t change it for anything!
So, if you feel like you have no effective way to manage your stress and/or anxiety, are in need of a third place, or just want to set up healthy habits while you’re still young, I can’t recommend a regular exercise routine enough. I was never the fastest or strongest kid in school, so I promise if I can do it, you can, too. Just show up, do the best you can for that day, and be kind to yourself.
Because of this exercise journey, I’ve really had to build out my workout wardrobe! I’m not a huge fan of dropping hundreds on workout clothes since I’d prefer to have enough pieces that I don’t have to do laundry every week if I don’t have to. From the start, I’ve been a huge fan of Old Navy’s workout clothes because they are an awesome price point, on-trend (they copy a lot of the big workout market leaders—Lululemon, Outdoor Voices, etc.), and really hold up in the wash.
I know Old Navy isn’t typically known for the quality, but y’all, trust me on this one—I think they must take the same materials they use for their Athleta brand and just put the Old Navy logo on those pieces. I’ve had most of my leggings and tops for about two years, wash them regularly, and they are still in like-new condition. Added bonus—Old Navy pretty much always has a sale.
I exclusively wear all-black when I’m working out because it makes me feel the most confident and makes it really easy to mix and match all my workout gear. Here’s a few of my favorite tops I’ve picked up from Old Navy—including the keyhole back sweatshirt I’m wearing in this post:
For their leggings, I am a huge fan of their compression leggings! They are a bit tighter to slide on, but they never ride down when you’re working out, which makes them perfect for just about any workout. I also own a few pairs of their yoga leggings, but I find they run really large, and are more for lounging around home than actually working out in/wearing in public—almost a good alternative to a pajama pant. I’m shorter (5’4″), so I typically go for their crop leggings in the regular size or their 7/8 leggings in the petite length. In this post, I’m wearing a regular full-length pair I picked up last Black Friday. They’re a tad long, so I just double roll them at the bottom and they’re prefect! Here are a few of my favorite compression leggings Old Navy has on sale now—I literally own nine pairs because they are *that* good:
In terms of shoes, I’m a big fan of of the Nike Free TR 8 Women’s Training Shoe for Orangetheory—the grip and support is just so much better than a running shoe for the range of motion a typically OTF class offers. In this post, I’m wearing my Nike Free RN 2 Running Shoe, which I used to wear to OTF, but now mostly just wear for errands. Regardless of shoe, these are my favorite socks ever to workout in because they’re no-show, but have a great grip so don’t slide around!
If you have any questions about my exercise routine or favorite workout clothes, don’t hesitate to reach out—firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos by my fellow exercise-loving friend, Jenn Rogers