Each year I give myself a birthday present. In previous years, my self-gifts have included a bass guitar and amp, an adjustable set of dumbbells, and high quality bed and bathroom linens.
This year, after 8 years of grad school, 4+ years of major life changes, and nearly a year of preparation to move across country, I looked in the mirror and asked myself “What does this body most want?”
This Year’s Present: Physical Conditioning
Over the last two months, my local church has been hosting health screenings and info sessions: blood donations for the Red Cross, heart fitness, and blood pressure tests in the lobby. But it was a BP screening that got my attention with the highest diastolic reading I’ve ever had in my life. I was so shocked that we came home and I retested it. Our home reading was lower than the reading in the church lobby—but still, it was far too high for my comfort. I was unnerved.
Throughout my life, my BP has been obnoxiously low: my British doctor once took a reading and asked me if I were dead. I have always been active in some way, whether as intensely as sport 4-5 days a week (a decade ago) or as moderately as walking most days to and from campus with some light weights at home (last year).
As we age, however, our bodies change and so do our routines. I carry around about 25 more pounds than I did when I first moved to the United States. I no longer play team sports, but I’ve done light resistance training on and off over the last few years, with great results each time. But the bottom line this time: my BP was ridiculous (for me), I hadn’t trained consistently since moving, and what my body most wanted for its birthday was more muscle tone!
21 Days of Cardio
So I made a commitment to myself to do some cardio/aerobic exercise every single day for the following 21 days. I’d planned to increase my activity level this year and love exercise when I’m in the middle of it, but I’d struggled most with getting into it and staying consistent. The recommended standard of 3-4 days per week hadn’t worked for me: I spent too much energy trying to adapt to a shifting daily schedule. So rather than try to remember whether “today is cardio day,” I decided to make every day cardio day.
I kept the entry barriers low: no new clothes, no gym subscription, and only 20 minutes per session. My favorite person has a recumbent bike; I decided to use that. And there were no other rules, though informally I decided that once I started pedaling, I would not stop until my daily time was up. That was doable. So 20 minutes on the bike non-stop every day.
How did I do? See for yourself.
|Day 1||4.51||156||Rolling, Level 6|
|Day 2||5.03||143||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 3||5.00||122||Interval, Level 4|
|Day 4||5.18||130||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 5||5.23||132||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 6||5.02||122||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 7||4.85||115||Interval, Level 4|
|Day 8||5.08||125||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 9||5.20||131||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 10||5.20||131||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 11||5.08||126||Interval, Level 4|
|Day 12||5.32||137||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 13||5.23||132||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 14||5.20||131||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 15||5.10||127||Interval, Level 4|
|Day 16||5.19||130||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 17||5.28||135||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 18||5.22||132||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 19||5.09||126||Interval, Level 4|
|Day 20||5.28||135||Rolling, Level 4|
|Day 21||5.13||128||Rolling, Level 4|
You’ll notice I rode a rolling circuit at Level 6 on my first day (the bike apparently goes up to Level 16, which is insane). I finished my 20 minutes that day, but it was hell! For the rest of the experiment, I stayed at Level 4, and switched from rolling circuits to intervals every fourth day so I didn’t get too comfortable.
And my blood pressure? It dropped 20 points in the first 4 days and was at 113/63 by Day 18. I have more energy through the day, feel more toned, and my thighs are lovely… I’m cool with that. It was my last session today, but I think I’ll be seeing the bike again tomorrow morning for a new round of 21. Happy birthday to me!
How about you? Have you run any short-term experiments with your own lifestyle? Did you finish the testing period? And did you keep the change afterwards?
Edit: The original post’s total miles and calories calculation did not include Day 11. This post has been updated to reflect the correct totals.