This is the time of year when I, along with many other people I know, start to feel stressed, tired and sloppy. Stressed because the rush of the holidays can be too much to handle all at once; tired because there's so much to do in such a short period of time; and sloppy because, well, if you're stressed and tired, you tend to not take care of yourself - which, coincidentally, makes you feel MORE stressed, tired and sloppy. Sound about right?
For the last two years, I made the mistake of getting sucked into this cycle. By the time New Year's Eve rolled around, I felt so miserable about myself - my lack of exercise and my horrible eating habits were to blame - that I felt like curling up into a ball and hiding underneath my bed sheets.
This year, I vowed to break that cycle. No longer would I shuffle into January feeling like I was the Pillsbury Doughboy stuffed into my clothes. I saw no reason to wait until January to set a goal or make a healthy resolution for myself. There's no rule that says you can't make a resolution in November - so that's just what I did.
But first, a little background (did you really think you were gonna get off short and sweet here?).
At the beginning of March, I was involved in a car accident. My car was t-boned in an intersection after another driver ran a red light. As a result of the accident, I lost my beloved first car - Civy, my 2001 Honda Civic - but also developed lingering head, neck and back issues. My doctor advised me not to partake in exercise for a while, so there went the weight lifting program I'd just started, and no more attending Jazzercise classes for a while either.
Time passed and my head and neck issues went away, and by the time May rolled around, I felt good enough to resume my regular exercise routine. However, the back problems still lingered, and over time, they escalated to the point where I could barely lean forward to wash my face over the sink. I walked and stood crooked, hunched over to the left. My back hurt when I stood up, when I sat down, when I walked, when I layed.... it hurt all the time, every day. Muscle relaxers helped a little, but they made me feel like I was in outer space most of the time, so it was pointless to take them during the day - which was when I moved around and needed them the most.
I had to quit Jazzercise, again, and not being able to exercise started wearing on me. In the meantime, doctors ran tests on my lower back and determined I had mild arthritis, as well as two slightly bulged disks. I was prescribed an anti-inflammatory (and FYI, I almost keeled over when I read the sheet that came with it saying the medicine was for arthritis - what? I'm 39! I don't want to be taking arthritis medicine yet!) and physical therapy. My physical therapist, on my first visit, noticed how crooked I stood, and diagnosed me with a pelvic upslip, meaning the left side of my pelvis was higher than the right. He corrected that with a chiropractic-like adjustment (i.e., he jerked my leg when I wasn't expecting it), and then gave me some exercises to do at home.
I did the exercises religiously. I set my alarm 15 minutes earlier every morning so I could do my exercises before work. I'd do them after work and then again before bedtime. I don't understand how people can attend physical therapy but not do the home exercises. Don't they want to get better? Just going to see my therapist and doing the exercises while I was there twice a week was not going to make my back feel better. I was tired of my back hurting. I wanted to wake up one morning thinking something other than, "Wow, my back is really stiff." I did my exercises faithfully, and I believe that made all the difference in my recovery.
After five sessions, I graduated from physical therapy in mid-September. I continued my exercises at home, and I set my Jazzercise return date to Oct. 1. It felt great getting back to class, and I took it easy at first, making sure to modify the routines to low impact. I'll be honest - even at low impact, I felt a little uneasy moving so quickly during the height of the workout, fearing I'd hurt my back. But the fear was unfounded. I did just fine. I started attending more classes and within a few weeks, I was able to do most moves at full steam. I didn't do the high impact stuff all the time, but I felt relieved to know that I could do it when I wanted.
At the end of October, Jazzercise announced its contest for November and December. Attend 45 Jazzercise classes during November and December and receive a fleece Jazzercise blanket. The announcement intrigued me. I probably hadn't attended 45 classes all year - maybe not even 25. I also never participated in the Jazzercise contests. But then I began thinking about how I always felt during those months. Too much overeating, not enough exercising - it was the road to stressed, tired and sloppy. I didn't want to feel that way.
I created a table on my computer and numbered blocks counting down to one from 45. At the top in large letters, I wrote, "November-December goal: Attend 45 Jazzercise classes. Benefits: Win a fleece Jazzercise blanket and don't feel like a slug during the holidays!" I printed it and stuck it to the front of my refrigerator (ironically, with magnets from Little Caesars).
As I attended each class, I crossed off a block. It gave me visual confirmation of my progress, but it also served as a way to keep myself accountable for what I was doing. Every time I walked past or opened the fridge, I saw that table and eyed up my remaining classes.
As a result of attending so many Jazzercise classes, I've felt so much better. In fact, I don't recall ever feeling this healthy while getting over the holiday hump. Because I feel better, I'm making better food choices. And the occasional indulgence doesn't derail the train from the tracks since I'm always working out. My clothes feel better, looser. And just the other day, I stepped on the scale at Jazzercise just for kicks, and surprise! I was down a few pounds! In addition, exercise releases endorphins that make you feel better, so even the most stressful day can melt away by spending one hour focusing on myself.
Perhaps best of all, my back doesn't hurt anymore like it did this summer. I don't think it will ever feel quite the same as it did before the accident, as I do have days when I feel stiff and sore, but I really think the continuous movements helps strengthen and stretch my back. I couldn't have asked for a better outcome.
I will reach my goal on Dec. 30. That's 45 Jazzercise classes in 60 days. It's certainly not easy, and there are nights when I have to force myself to go. But once I get there and begin working out, I remember how much fun it is, how great the people are, and how awesome I feel when I'm finished.
I can't wait until the night of Dec. 30 when I can curl up with my fleece Jazzercise blanket, feeling empowered to know I reached my goal. And all before the big ball drops in Times Square on New Year's Eve.