The idea for this piece came to me on a run. It wasn’t even really a run, more of a half-run, half-walk situation that would have made me very embarrassed a year ago. My pace was slow, and I had a heavy coat on that was weighing me down — mainly because I had intended it to be a walk before I got bored and started running. It wasn’t anything impressive, certainly not something that would make someone think that I was one of the captains of my track team in high school.
But I was, and yet when I exercise now it often looks like this.
Many of us here are ex-athletes. Always overachieving and searching for the next organization to join, we were led into sports, and many of us were good at them, too. We were captains and team leaders, we led teams to championships, and we competed at regional, state, and even national levels. We devoted countless hours to our teams, committing hours almost every day of the week to practice. It was rewarding to see ourselves become so physically skilled: so fast, so strong, so agile.
But now we’re in college, and that’s gone — not for all of us, but for the vast majority. With a new schedule, new clubs we feel compelled to join, and no threat of a yelling coach, it’s easy to put exercise first on the chopping block.
There’s a certain shame in not working out as much as you used to, not being guaranteed a worked-up sweat everyday to make you feel good about yourself. In high school, physical exhaustion was a symbol of accomplishment, and aching muscles were a source of pride. A lot of us lack that now. With such a routine source of achievement gone, it’s easy to feel ashamed, or at least a little lost.
It’s difficult to realize that you can’t do as many pull-ups, or that you can’t run that six-minute mile you ran a year ago, or that you can’t do nearly as many consecutive backflips. It hurts to no longer see yourself as stereotypically physically fit, despite those standards being largely unattainable.
I’m not stubborn enough to try to fight against the fact that exercise is good for you. But demanding exercise isn’t the only way to be happy, and it’s also not the only way to take care of your physical health. It often seems like the end-all be-all, and after years of running I often struggle to accept it myself.
It wasn’t healthy to define myself by how fast I could run a lap around the track. It definitely wasn’t good to see how long I could last before practicing the hurdles got a little too dangerous because of exhaustion. Looking back, it was stupid to still try to practice when injured, and to feel bad when I missed even one workout. What I thought was so healthy couldn’t have been any less.
So now I try to remember the other aspects of health besides physical fitness. It’s good to focus on how friendships can lengthen your lifespan, how spending time outdoors lessens anxiety and muscle tension, and how eating a variety of foods gives you nutrients you otherwise would have missed. I open my windows when it’s not too cold out and my water bottle is always being refilled. I still enjoy exercise, but I’m glad it’s no longer the only factor I value in determining my health.
So instead of wallowing about your past athletic days, as I so frequently did at the beginning of my freshman year, experience the seasons that Cambridge offers outdoors. Seek out new and old friends to simply be around — even call it networking if that motivates you. Try new foods, and if you ever just feel like walking, feel good about it.
I’ll continue to go on my unplanned half-runs, half-walks, where my legs don’t hurt incessantly and I have the energy to enjoy my surroundings. I’ll keep enjoying jogging alongside the Charles river and taking pictures on top of the many bridges that span it. These days, I know that that’s good enough.
April S. Keyes ’26, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Pennypacker Hall.
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