One year ago, I stepped onto a scale only to discover that my weight had creeped up to an all-time high. It was clear that 2018 would have to be my year to get with the program -- a fitness program -- that I could stick with for the rest of my life.
It was time to take some serious steps toward wellness.
Not only was I overweight, but my energy levels had dipped. I often felt sluggish and could barely squeeze into my favorite pair of jeans. At 5 feet 6 inches, I weighed in at 165, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, meant that I had toppled into the "overweight" category, with a BMI of 26.6.
I blamed my weight gain on my advancing age -- I'm 45 -- and my increasingly sedentary lifestyle. I'm also a breast cancer survivor; I'll be on Tamoxifen, an anti-cancer drug that many report causes weight gain, for many years to come. My busy life has no room for low energy levels. Because I'm a breast cancer survivor, it's more important than ever that I keep my BMI in check: Research shows that regular physical activity reduces breast cancer risk and recurrence. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week.
I'm a huge fan of habit expert Gretchen Rubin, author of "The Four Tendencies." Rubin believes that everyone falls into one of four categories -- upholders, questioners, obligers and rebels -- and that once you determine your tendency, you can figure out better habit-forming strategies. I'm a classic rebel, which means I tend to resist outer expectations and work best when I feel ownership over my choices. Demand that I cut out sugar, and I'll make a beeline to Candyality. Suggest that I spend an hour on an elliptical, and I'll head for the sofa instead, worried that I might die of boredom.
Because I'm a rebel with a good cause, however, I worked to figure out a path toward wellness that worked for me.
I decided to follow the advice of Hippocrates, who considered walking "man's best medicine." The June 2018 edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine focused entirely on walking, highlighting the fact that the health benefits of regular, brisk walking go beyond helping maintain a healthy weight; energy levels and mood are lifted as an added bonus.
The average American takes 5,117 steps per day. Ten thousand steps -- approximately five miles per day -- seemed a realistic goal for me.
It took a couple of weeks to find my walking groove. I parked my car farther from the school where I teach. Midday, I made a point of stepping outside on my break, for a short walk to my favorite coffee shop. When I needed to pick something up from the grocery store, I walked instead of hopping in my car. On weekends, I planned family activities that included outdoor walks. My dog was thrilled to be taken on a long evening walk. These small lifestyle changes allowed me to squeeze in exercise throughout the day. It took about a month to notice the two-fold benefits of my newfangled walking routing. My weight began slowly and safely dropping. I felt more focused and calmer as I settled in to bed in the evening; more energetic and eager to seize the day when my alarm clock rang at 6 a.m.
My only investment: $25, the cost of my fitness tracker. Apart from about 10 days when I was traveling or sick or otherwise unable to focus on my steps, I walked 10,000 steps daily in 2018.
Setting up my very own walking fitness routine empowered me: This was an exercise program I could stick with for the years to come.
I rang in 2019 at a healthy 145 pounds. I feel better than ever.
Marla Feingold, board certified clinical nutritionist at WholeHealth Chicago, underscores the importance of researching a realistic plan that works for you, when it comes to making lifestyle changes toward wellness: "Make sure your goals are clear, written down and reasonable. Remember that changes take time. Give yourself time to prepare, plan, implement, and check and balance your progress. Everyone goes at their own pace."
No matter the rain, sleet or snow; when properly dressed for the weather, I learned to savor the seasons: the fall leaves crunching at my feet, a fresh blanket of pure white snow. I've encountered and befriended new neighbors along the way. My kids join in on many of my walks, too, and I so value the screen-free, one-on-one talk time.
Walking worked for me because it's not just a safe, effective form of exercise. It's also enjoyable. West suburban certified personal fitness trainer Nick Perri reminds his clients that it's important to find a fitness routine that fits into daily life ... for the rest of your life.
"Fitness is a lifestyle. You must embrace it as such. You must stay consistent, regardless of what life throws at you. When things aren't going your way or life has seemingly got you down, exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself. The times you want to stop the most are the times you should keep going. It's all about self-care."