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SOUCHERAY: Choosing to take care of ourselves in the new year

If one of our New Year's resolutions was to get serious about an exercise program, Woodbury certainly has no shortage of fitness facilities to help us out. We have the YMCA, Lifetime Fitness, Gold's Gym, Anytime Fitness, Curves, to name a few.

There are reminders everywhere for us, from the backs of cereal boxes to pop ups on the Internet, which remind us we should be exercising on a regular basis. We are told that our blood pressure and cholesterol levels will respond to more consistent workouts and that our waistlines will love us, too.

We all know exercise is a good thing, no one is arguing this point. The question isn't whether we should exercise, but when do we find time to squeeze it in?

We may have a busy family, keeping us running in several directions at once. Or a job that takes us to the other side of the Twin Cities, where we are held up in traffic, both to and from work. The time drain on our lives can sometimes seem endless. Heading out to the gym after a long and tiring day may be the last thing we want to do.

So how do we convince ourselves to muster up the energy to pull out the duffle bag, tie on our shoes, and trudge out into the cold? The very thought of it can cause us to laugh at the absurdity and ridiculousness of it all.

Something that may nudge at our brains, however, is how good we know we will feel as we are doing the workout, as well as afterward. We know that endorphins, which are the "feel good hormones," are released into our bodies when we exercise, which give us a natural feeling of happiness and well-being. We want to smile about our day, no matter what it may have been. After we have exercised, we feel better.

So what is it about us that we have to talk ourselves into feeling good? Don't you think we would simply gravitate toward that naturally and do all we can to harness that feeling as often as we can?

For some reason, choosing to exercise does not have the same appeal as sitting in front of the TV with a bowl of Moose Tracks ice cream and a fudgy cookie. It's like choosing an apple over a hot fudge sundae. We know the apple is better for us, but the sundae tastes so good that it's hard to resist.

With all the information we know about how good exercise is for us, as well as having all of these fitness opportunities in our city, what's holding us back? Maybe the cold weather of Minnesota is a hindrance. When we arrive home from work, after we pick up the kids at daycare or an after-school program, we have to get supper ready and the kids started on their homework. There is often no time to think about going to the gym or taking some time for a run on the treadmill in the basement.

We also have to put in a load of laundry, wash the supper dishes - and maybe the breakfast dishes, too - pack lunches for the next day, and get everyone into bed so they are ready for the next day. The thought of all this can be exhausting.

So where is there time in this schedule to take care of ourselves? It can feel like we are on a wheel, and we are the rat, running to stay on so we won't fly off. There often doesn't seem to be any choice given to us, with regard to caring for our families and caring for ourselves.

Not taking care of ourselves is simply not an option, however. Research continues to show the terrific drain unanswered stress has on our lives. This stress increases the amount of cortisol released into our bodies, which is often managed through regular exercise.

The French philosopher, Sartre, states, "We are our choices." Given this culture in which we live, the hurriedness of our lives will likely not lessen. That may be a fact we will have to accept, like it or not, particularly in a state that so highly prizes education and contribution to our communities. Acknowledging this and learning to live with it may be a true triumph for us in the new year.

Take time this week to assess when and how you can squeeze in a little "me time," and then be an advocate for yourself. Not only will you feel good about your decision to take care of yourself, as well as benefit from the time and attention you give to however you decide to do this, you will also give your children the example that this is what well-rounded adults do: they make time to take care of themselves.