Keeping you ON PACE

The days are shorter and the leaves have fallen from the trees. The dropping temperature lends itself to wearing a hat and gloves. A chilly wind is not uncommon, nor a sprinkle or more of rain, even snow. The thought of heading outside for a run is not enticing, yet a nagging voice in my head tells me I should.  I should do it because I want to look good for the upcoming holiday parties. I should do it because I want to run my fastest marathon next year. And I should do it because I know I will feel much better afterwards.

For all of us, our lives are filled with so many expectations, responsibilities and obligations, including exercise.  I often wonder how these expectations hinder success, and how the fear of failure plays into the equation.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week. For even better health benefits, the Guidelines recommend 5 hours of moderate exercise or 2 hours and 30 minutes of vigorous activity each week.*

We live in a culture where “more is better” is a common mantra. This underlying push for more is apparent even in the exercise domain, despite these simple recommendations. Typical encouragements can sound like, “Congratulations for completing a 5K race in 31 minutes! Next time try to break 30 minutes,” or “Good job running 20 miles in a week! Now let’s increase to 22 miles a week.” Personally, goal-setting and the subsequent sense of accomplishment is rewarding and keeps me motivated to exercise. But for many, the push to do more ignites a negative feedback loop and actually stops people from starting to exercise, continuing to exercise, or stepping it up due to the fear of failure. 

“I can walk a marathon, no problem,” says East Side mother-of-three, Jennifer McEnaney, “but I limit my running to the side streets or when it’s dark outside to avoid stopping when someone might see me!’’

Perhaps fear is a reason why many people do not exercise at all in a culture where more, better, faster, and longer is encouraged and expected. Fear of not being able to run a 5K faster the next time, fear of not meeting a weight goal, fear of not keeping up with friends in a half marathon.

If you are a goal-driven runner/exerciser who craves the dopamine hit when you successfully reach your goal, then you will don the hat and gloves on the coldest, darkest days and head out to confront the weather. However, for most people, the option of staying warm and cozy outweighs the drive to complete a seven-mile run at a designated pace, in the pouring rain. And that’s OK. Let’s instead consider how to develop exercise habits and routines not to be faster or leaner, but to have good health. Let’s stop pushing ourselves (and others) to constantly do more. Instead, let’s encourage and celebrate what we need to do for our health. To put it simply, if you complete 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week, you’ve succeeded!

On these shorter days of late fall, I put on my hat and gloves to combat the chilly temperatures and head out for a run. I’m not doing it to look better or run faster; I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do for my health, my peace of mind and my children, and it helps me to stay on pace.

*For complete guidelines please see:

Michelle Collie PT, DPT, MS, OCS is a Physical Therapist, the owner and CEO of Performance Physical Therapy. She lives on the East Side of Providence with her husband and 2 children. She can be reached at [email protected] 

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