It's Okay to Take a Break from Exercise

I was always the skinny one. It was something both my friends and family members would comment on. Once, when I was younger, one of my older cousins was even shocked that my calf was only as big as her forearm. It was something I took as a given.

My parents made sure I was an active kid. I played soccer from the time I as five until I finished high school, on top of running track and cross country from middle school onwards. I continued running on my own when I got to college—to stay in shape, of course—but mostly because I enjoyed it and because it made me feel good.

The one year I did indoor track…

Now, as a senior in college, I haven’t exercised regularly since the beginning of June. That means I’ve only exercised once or twice a week—or not at all—for about four months. This summer I was working full time (forty to fifty hours a week) at a restaurant, which meant that I’d be on my feet all day, sometimes for twelve hours at a time. The last thing I wanted to do before or after a shift was stress my body (especially my feet) further. On my days off of work, I would devote my time to an internship that took up another sixteen hours (not including the hour and a half commute both ways). I say all this not to pat myself on the back for a summer well spent, but simply to show that when I had free time, the only things I wanted to do were curl up with a book, have a drink with some friends, or sleep.

Taking a much-needed break with friends. 

The last time I spent four months without exercising, I was studying abroad in Italy. There, I either felt unsafe running in the city alone or was otherwise occupied or exhausted from traveling and seeing as much as I could in such a short time. Although I know there were other people on my program that kept up with a semi-regular workout routine, it was something I chose not to prioritize at the time.

Exploring ruins: an excellent alternative to exercise.

Despite all this time off, I still consider myself to be a runner. But, spending around eight months out of a whole year without exercising has changed my body. It may not be a discernable change to anyone else but me, but it’s something I live with now on a daily basis. Although I know I would never be considered overweight by anyone’s standard, I still sometimes think but I’m fat for me. My body used to be one way, and now it is another. My stomach used to be flat, where now there’s a little bit of bulge. My thighs touch in more places than they used to. I had to buy a size up in jeans. Sometimes when I see myself undressed, I feel like I’m not meeting some unspoken expectation, and it scares me a little bit.

To get over this fear, I kept looking at myself. Before I get in the shower every morning, I look at my body in the mirror. When I change into my pajamas before I go to sleep, I look again. Maybe this is weird, but it has helped me. Just as people pose for the perfect selfie, I’ll look at my body from different angles to prove to myself that this body is in fact still me, even if it looks and feels a little different.

Me, after finishing a half marathon and being too tired to smile properly.  

Taking a break from exercising has taught me that sometimes it’s okay to spend my energy in other ways. Aside from parts of high school and when I was training for a half marathon my sophomore year, my first priority has never been running. During my time abroad and this past summer, it didn’t even make the list. Still, I know that running will be something I keep circling back to with varied levels of commitment, especially in times of stress. I am allowed take breaks to accommodate the new challenges life throws my way. Exercising should be a source of enjoyment and empowerment and not something that feels like a burden.

 

Image Credits: Jenna Wendler, Morgan Harden, Tina Orlando, Samantha Meyer