The Rockwood Files: Let’s Get Physical

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

In the early 80s, I got an Olivia Newton John album that featured one of her biggest hits called “Physical.” In the music video for “Physical”, Olivia wore a spandex leotard and headband, and she danced and sang while exercising in the midst of muscle-bound men.

I was about 9-years-old when I saw that music video, and I decided that I’d work out all the time if I could be as cool as Olivia Newton John. She made it look so glamorous and fun. But the leg warmers and spandex leotards didn’t make me fall in love with exercise, which was okay because I was an active kid who had one of those super-fast metabolisms that let me eat nearly anything and still stay thin.

Fast forward 25 years: After having our third baby four years ago, I realized that the super-fast metabolism of my youth had vanished the same way leg warmers in the 80s did. Suddenly I needed to exercise. I tried running. Hated it. I tried a spinning class. Hated it more. I flirted a little with step aerobics and home work-out videos of various varieties. I’d do the work-outs with enthusiasm for a week or so. But then it became like taking a big dose of bad-tasting medicine. I’d do it only because it was “good for me”, but I sure didn’t want to.

Now and then I’d go on an exercise strike and stop doing it altogether because I was sick of the drudgery, and there were always other chores and errands that convinced me I was too busy to exercise anyway.

Then late last year I read an article titled “The Real Truth about Exercise,” written by a personal trainer named Claudia Smith, and it surprised me. Typically, fitness articles are a remix of every exercise cliché we’ve ever heard – “no pain, no gain; feel the burn; put in the work to get the results; self-discipline; blah, blah, blah”. But this one was different. It basically said we should take a cue from kids. Little kids don’t “work out”. They go play. They move around because we’re designed to move around. They do what feels right, what feels like fun. My kids aren’t scampering up and down the driveway because they desperately want to fit into their skinny jeans. They’re just moving around to do what they like – ride bikes, shoot hoops, jump rope, climb the jungle gym.

The trainer also advised against calling it a “work-out” since that sounds about as appealing as a root canal. Putting it in a category of things you have to do automatically makes it a drag.

So this year, instead of making my traditional New Year’s resolution of working out more and losing weight, I decided to focus on finding some type of exercise activity that I actually like – or, at the very least, don’t hate.

After lots of searching, I’m finally “moving” at least twice a week now. (Notice how I didn’t call it working out?) And I’m discovering that it is, indeed, fun to move. I’m taking a Pilates class twice a week and doing a few of the moves at home on my own while watching TV at night. When I wake up on the day of my Pilates class, I don’t immediately think “Oh, no. I’ve gotta go work out today.” I actually kind of look forward to it. Believe me, no one is more surprised by that than I am.

One of the best parts of finding the exercise that “fits” is feeling like I’m doing something that’s just for me. When you spend so much of your time taking care of work, your house and other people, doing something that takes care of yourself can almost feel like a luxury. And, for the first time, I’m not exercising to fit into smaller jeans or to look a certain way in a swimsuit – although I’ll be thrilled if that happens. I’m doing it because I want to feel good in my own skin again. I want to be stronger, leaner and more flexible than when I started.

It’s only been a couple of months since I started this quest but it’s going well so far. Today I sneezed and felt some soreness in my stomach muscles because I exercised them yesterday. And it made me happy to know that those muscles were actually still in there and might even make a comeback one day. I was beginning to worry that the doctor had removed them during that last C-section.

I may never rock a spandex leotard the way Olivia Newton John did in the 80s, but I’ll say this: When you finally find an activity that fits, it feels pretty good to “get physical.”

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.