Exercise, Wisdom, and Doing Your Best

By Leslie Barker
December 12, 2022

In this crazy world of ours, we tend to not settle for anything but the best. We want the reddest rose, the softest sheets, the coolest car, the funniest friends. We want our parties to be a blast, our vacations to be beyond wonderful, our meals to be as healthy as they are luscious.

When it comes to our workouts, many of us figure if our heart rate doesn’t reach a certain level, or our speed is slower, or we just can’t walk more than a mile today, or even if we can’t bring ourselves to exercise at all on any given day (or even two! three!) — then we’ve blown it in the exercise realm. Might as well give up, eh?

Of course not. I recently read this column in The New York Times by a woman named Sarah Wildman, whose family’s experience dealing with her 13-year-old daughter’s cancer reminded her not “to look for every moment to be a 10.”

I encourage you to read the entire column, but I’ll tell you the ending: “It turns out,” she writes, “I really don’t need life to always be a 10. A nice, solid six would be nice. Tonight, I’d even go with a four. We’d be very happy to rest here, at four.”

And while working out hardly can be compared to dealing with the cancer of a loved one, especially one barely in their teens, the crux of what she’s saying is worth holding onto.

Some days — probably most— it is enough to just get up and move in some form or fashion. Pump up significantly what you’re doing for a few minutes here and a few minutes there, and it’ll do wonders for your health. Yes, be tough on yourself — tough as far as putting forth the extra effort, but also forgiving if you can’t complete your intended workout as you’d wished.

Sometimes you just have to marvel at hearing your heartbeat and your sneakers on the sidewalk; of spotting that first leaf changing color or the cutest dog you’ve ever seen; of smelling bacon in early-morning air or the first cut lawn of spring; of tasting cold water when you hold your water bottle to your lips in satisfaction when your workout is over.

I was reminded of all this recently when I came across a Fitness Tip of the Day I wrote while I was covering fitness for The Dallas Morning News. In it, I wrote how neither the run nor the swim I’d done was one for the record books, but that really didn’t matter: Each gave me a sense of calm and peace that carried over throughout the day.

I felt lucky to be able to do those activities and I still do. If I’m sore when I get out of bed, I’m grateful I could do a workout that made me sore. If I’m flat-out not in the mood, I remember that a lot of people would give anything to be able to even walk to the mailbox, and I feel both a rush of gratitude and a compulsion to give my all — no matter what it may be — for them.

Every time I go to the gym, there’s a certain place right before I turn into the parking lot when I say the same thing: Thank you for letting me be here, and please let me do my best. 

At one time, my best would be my fastest and hardest, and anything less would be a day-dampener. While that sometimes holds true, just as often my best is just being there: Talking to and laughing with people in my spin class or striking up a conversation with a fellow swimmer.

All this to say, not everything must be a 10. Sure, make your New Year’s resolutions to get your 30-plus minutes of exercise every day, and do all you can to stick to it.

But sometimes, some days, some moments… just being here on this sweet earth is enough.

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