Last summer I took daily sunset walks to local parks and the beach. I swam in the mornings, did yoga in the afternoon, and even danced a little. The mild temperatures stretched into fall, and even when the pool closed for the season, it was still easy to maintain physical activity.
When the winter rains finally arrive, the cold damp weather put an end to those evening walks. I tried to maintain a regular yoga routine, but got distracted with family, holidays, and work. Once I stopped, it was easy to make excuses and keep putting it off for another day – but it wasn’t easy to ignore the messages my body was sending. I had more fatigue, my muscles ached, and I had longer episodes of morning stiffness. My mental sharpness decreased, and I struggled with brain fog.
There are many reasons why we take a break from exercise — illness, injury, vacations, holidays, or the symptoms from RA itself — even the weather plays a hand in how active I am. We often convince ourselves it will only be a short break and we’ll start again tomorrow, but before we know it, tomorrow turns into two weeks. It’s easy to get comfortable with a sedentary lifestyle but there are consequences.
Without exercise, I had no energy because I wasn’t producing any, and the longer I stayed in this place, the harder it became to go back. To pull myself out of my winter rut, I embarked on a 30-day yoga challenge to reactivate my exercise routine.
Reap the Rewards: Benefits for Body and Mind
Challenges are beneficial for us. They breathe new life into our monotonous routines. Exercise strengthens our heart, bones, and joints, increases blood flow, and helps alleviate morning stiffness caused by arthritis. When we lose motivation, challenging ourselves can be the first step to getting back on track.
Exercise not only benefits the body but also the mind. It boosts our mood by increasing endorphins, inspires us, and keeps us grounded. Exercise is a moving meditation, a safe haven where we can seek solace from the world. It’s a time to nurture ourselves, listen to our bodies, and create space within.
I’ve been practicing yoga for more than 25 years, so for me it was the obvious choice, but you can choose any activity you enjoy for your challenge — swimming, walking, hiking, dancing, yoga, Pilates — anything that is suitable to your physical condition. You can set your own time limit and number of days. Sixty minutes a day right out of the gate may be hard to maintain if you haven’t been moving. Our bodies need time to adjust after a long break.
Starting out at 10 minutes a day is an accessible goal, and then you can slowly increase on each new day as you see fit. Whatever challenge you give yourself, don’t be judgemental. Take it slow, ease into it — our muscles hold memory of how we move and over time they can recover their former shape, so be gentle and trust your body’s ability to remember.
The first few days of my 30-day challenge were rough. It’s amazing how fast the muscles can deteriorate when they’re not being used. My body is working against age, hormones, and chronic illness — it’s not the same body it was before rheumatoid arthritis, so big gaps between exercising make a significant difference. It did get easier.
Going back to regular exercise after a break can feel a bit like starting all over again but giving yourself a challenge can help move you to action. I have written about the importance of finding play in exercise, so find the fun in your challenges to stay motivated. We can also use friends, family, and fitness apps for accountability and daily reminders to move.
Small Challenges, Big Changes
Setting little challenges in life can jazz up your exercise routine — and you can apply this technique to any aspect of life:
- Diet: make a list of vegetables and use one every day
- Sleep habits: go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning
- Work productivity: list one task the day before you will complete the following day
These are just examples, but regardless it’s about establishing a practice that will eventually become second nature.
My 30-day challenge helped me get back to daily exercise. I just returned from a two-week vacation and although I walked every day on my travels, the five-day recovery from jet lag set me back again, and I caught myself falling back into that deceptive comfort of procrastination. It seems like another 30-day yoga challenge is on the horizon for me — and I’m ready to do it all again.
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