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Mid-Winter Body Blues
Shelby Murphy

I discovered last week the true reason why most people don###t swim in the winter. The obvious conclusion is because both the water and the air are too cold. I now believe that is just a convenient pretext. The real reason is because of the way a neglected, early-February body looks in a tight, happy-colored swimming suit.

A friend of mine lives in a posh apartment complex that offers every conceivable amenity, including a full day spa, right outside her front door. She recently invited my kids and me over to swim in the indoor pool, lounge in the hot tub, and breathe the vapors of the eucalyptus steam room. It all sounded like great fun, until minutes before I said we###d be there. I was still trying on every bathing suit I###ve owned in my adult life in search of the one that might render my hibernal body invisible. I even briefly considered the black and pink full-body wetsuit I used to wear scuba diving, but figured it would probably attract the stares of strangers rather than elude them. So I opted for the solid black one-piece that I bought the summer after I gave birth to my son. It has become my go-to suit whenever I###m - ahem - less than satisfied with the way my body looks.

The afternoon of swimming was enjoyable; the self-consciousness I felt was not. However, I realize that my body###s current state of squishiness is a product of my own making. It is the reasonable effect of months of occasional use only. It isn###t surprising that when I was leaner and tighter last summer - when I made running three times a week a non-negotiable part of my schedule - I felt more at home in my own body, and therefore more at home in the world.

Once an exercise routine dissipates, even if only for a week or two, it is the easiest thing in the world to let it just drift out the window forever. There is always something - a pressing project for work, a checkbook that needs balanced, toys that need organized, or a bathroom that needs cleaned - that will slip, almost unnoticed, into the time slot you previously reserved for exercise.

Then suddenly you wonder how you ever found time for exercise at all. Whole muscle groups begin to migrate south. And in the midst of all your busyness you realize you haven###t breathed a deep, full, heavy breath in months.

I###ve come to understand, however, that I###ll never have enough time for everything. Just as I realized that I probably won###t have the unlimited amounts of time I once imagined to focus on my career once my kids are in school, I also realize the day will never come when exercise becomes an easy part of my life year round. That understanding doesn###t mean that I should neglect the career I###m passionate about or the movement my body craves. It simply means that I must carve out time for them, in whatever amounts I can afford, within the framework of my life###s priorities.

Right now, my life###s priorities are tipped heavily toward my small children, so I must determine an exercise plan that either aligns itself with their lives - playing tag, jumping on the trampoline, walking to the park - or doesn###t compete significantly with their lives - working out after daddy comes home.

But most importantly, I need to be realistic about what I expect of myself all at once. Given all the things I###ve already committed myself to through the end of spring, I need to assess whether making yet another commitment is healthy. Life is a process of consistently moving in a better direction. We never arrive all at once. So here I sit with my saggy triceps. without which I couldn###t write. Here I sit with my flabby abdomen. without which I wouldn###t have had my two wonderful children. And here I sit with my less-than-perfect legs, without which I couldn###t go out and experience this amazing world.

Do I owe this competent body regular movement and attention to keep it functionally fit? Absolutely. Do I owe it to myself to strive for the 18-year-old body I once had that looked smashing in a bikini? I don###t think so.

Will I again face the mid-winter body blues the next time I sling on a swimming suit and expose parts that haven###t seen the light of day since August? Guaranteed.

Shelby Murphy is a freelance writer, columnist, and mother of two. Her work has earned countless local and national bylines and circulates the globe online. In 2001, she started RadiantWomen, an online and syndicated print column for women who live life on purpose. For a free subscription or more information, contact Shelby at shelby@radiantwomen.com or go to www.radiantwomen.com.