We all come to our careers or our passions in life differently. For 40 years it has been my mission to spread the message of health and fitness. I can pinpoint the moment I found my calling.
I was raised a military brat. Every couple of years, we said goodbye to the familiar and started anew, moving from state to state and country to country. It was a rootless existence, but I learned to adapt and even got a thrill from the sense of newness. We’d been in Belleville, Illinois, for a couple of years, when three days before my high school graduation, my mom got a call and we rushed to the hospital. My father had a heart attack and died very suddenly. I was 17. People used to call me Little Carly, nicknamed after my father, Carl, because I was daddy’s little girl and looked so much like him. As devastating as it was, my mom, sister, and I did our best to carry on.
My sister and I went on to college, and my mom moved to Wisconsin. Not long after she moved, she met a pilot, like my father, and fell in love. A couple of months later, we celebrated their wedding together. That would be the last time I saw her. Shortly after the wedding, she and her husband died when the private plane he was piloting crashed on an icy day into a farmer’s field.
It didn’t seem possible that the sudden loss of a parent could happen to me a second time in less than two years. It was a shock that rocked me to the core. At the age of 19, I was orphaned, weighed down by depression, and felt utterly lost.
My boyfriend at the time was an athlete. Running at the track was part of his daily regimen. I struggled most when I was alone, so I went with him, hanging out on the bleachers as he ran laps. I started to get too antsy sitting there, so I decided to join him for a lap even though running was not my thing.
As one-fourth of a mile became a half a mile, and a half a mile became a mile, I found myself feeling euphoric after my runs. The more I ran, the more life started to feel more manageable, and for the first time in years, I felt hopeful, so I kept running. I had found the powerful connection between exercise and emotions, not yet realizing that I had stumbled upon my life’s passion and work.
A couple of years later, I moved to Los Angeles with the Hawaii Marathon under my belt. Running on the streets of LA was much different than running in Hawaii. The air quality in the ’70s was terrible, and while I still had a passion for running, I wasn’t enjoying it as much. I kept hearing about an exercise class that was becoming very popular, so I decided to check it out.
I showed up at a stunning penthouse studio with views of the entire city. And there were Jane Fonda and Barbara Streisand doing about a thousand arm circles to LPs that the instructor played. The class was a blast, but it was more calisthenics than aerobics. So, I took the idea of exercising to music and combined it with my love of aerobics, creating a class of my own. Those classes launched my career and the fitness revolution that continues to this day. Forty years and 20 million DVDs later, it is still my joy to share the latest, most creative innovations in fitness with everyone.
Just as we need the three macros of nutrition – fat, protein, and carbs – to survive, we need the three macros of fitness – cardio, strength training, and flexibility – to thrive. Because women tend to equate exercise with cardio workouts: aerobics, running, biking, etc., they aren’t as inclined to strength training. But even if you feel super fit, if you’re excluding strength training from your exercise plan, you have a lot to lose.
Beginning in their 30s, women stand to lose approximately 6 lb of lean muscle tissue per decade. That loss increases to 10 lb after menopause, which is not a good thing – the lower the percentage of lean muscle, the slower the metabolism. The slower the metabolism, the more the ability to burn fat diminishes, leading to a tidal wave of illness and disease. I call it the Great Decline.
Joint injuries are often due to the loss of the protective muscles surrounding them, just as falls are often the result of your quad muscles no longer being able to catch you when you trip. A strong musculoskeletal system allows you to perform all activities at a higher level with less chance of injury, while slowing the Great Decline.
I am also happy to dispel the notion that women should only lift light weights or they’ll bulk up. First, women will not bulk up unless they intend to, and even then, it is very tough to do so.
We simply do not have enough testosterone – women who strength train develop shapely, trim, feminine figures.
Second, studies have shown that women most often underestimate the amount of weight they should be lifting. To achieve the benefits of strength training, you have to use an amount of weight that fatigues the target muscle in 30–90 seconds. A simple gauge is that if you can’t make it to five repetitions, the weight is too heavy, but if you reach 15 repetitions and feel like you can keep going, the weight is too light.
A series of just 8–10 exercises can target all the major muscle groups. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends doing 12–15 repetitions of each exercise to make one set, and doing 2–3 sets of each exercise 2–3 times per week. By being consistent and following these recommendations, you will build strength, improve metabolism, and slow the Great Decline.
Because technique is important, I recommend that you learn the basics. This 10-minute workout lays the foundation with simple strength-training exercises that target your abs, legs, glutes, and arms. Modifications are provided to help you perform the exercises safely, effectively, and within your abilities.
It is also important to note that as you gain strength, you will eventually reach a plateau, and it will be time to change up your routine. This workout, also just 10 minutes, includes a variety of functional strength-based moves at a more advanced level to help you stay strong and energized.
We have to look at exercise as a non-negotiable part of each day. This can’t happen without some planning, best done the night before. If you wait until morning, you start the day reacting to what has already happened, and there is a good chance the workout gets axed. Regardless of whether it’s a 10-minute strength-training routine or an hour-long cardio workout, let exercise be the anchor to your day.
This doesn’t necessarily mean every day should begin with your workout. I usually plan my workout for the morning because that’s when my energy resources are at their peak, but that’s not the case for everyone. Your workout schedule should reflect your body’s rhythms. Even if you prefer to work out in the evening, morning rituals are our launching point into the rest of the day.
Morning rituals, to start your day the right way
Here are some morning rituals that help me feel more relaxed, connected, and ready to approach the day ahead with a more productive mindset:
1- Drink a cup of green tea and a ginger shot. I make a ginger shot with a few cubes of freshly chopped ginger and a squeeze of lemon in a cup of hot water. It stimulates my body and wakes me up.
2- Contemplate for five minutes, or maybe a little more, in a comfortable, quiet place. I take notice of my thoughts and feelings. That’s it! No judging, no problem solving, no list making; just a few quiet moments of stillness and focusing on the breath.
3- Stretch your body. Stretching allows me to get the energy and fluids moving throughout my body.
4- Step outside. A few minutes of fresh air and morning sunlight can brighten my mood and gives me a blast of energy.
Life is an endless series of choices. My goal is to help people automatically make choices that allow them to participate in life at its fullest. If you see the stairs, take the stairs.
There was a time after my parents’ death when I thought, why plan for the future when it can end so suddenly. Then I ran my first lap. Even simple choices can improve your life.