In early September, a few days after a pep talk from my friend Deborah, I went to the Y for the first time. I thought I was going to swim but the pool was closed, so I took my first ever Pilates class instead.

Since then, I’ve gone to the Y most days, pulling myself out of bed at 5:15 or 6:15 in order to get the workout done before going to work.

Hope I don’t sound like I’m bragging, though I do feel proud of myself because I was pretty much a couch potato. Please indulge me while I share a few thoughts about it.

For one thing, it’s mysterious how sometimes we are able to make changes in our lives, and sometimes (usually) we are not. I’ve been intending to join the Y for years. It’s a beautiful facility, recently renovated, and only five minutes from my house. Why not take advantage? But somehow, I just didn’t.

Then last spring, a friend gave me a copy of Younger Next Year, which makes an impassioned case for vigorous, daily exercise as the key to healthy aging. I found it persuasive, even compelling (I’m on my third reading), but still it took me five months to take action. All I can say is, sometimes you’re ready and sometimes you’re not.

Perhaps launching a significant lifestyle change requires that you be in a position to make a “project” out of it. The only time I ever lost weight on Weight Watchers was when I was really into it, when I actually enjoyed filling out the booklets and weighing my food. Your diet or exercise program or whatever has to be your new hobby for a while, something you’ve got sufficient time and interest and energy for.

Which would not have been possible for me when I was working two jobs, or during the crazy/busy summer. This September, there was simply more breathing room.

Unfortunately, life has gotten crazy/busy again, and I’m acutely aware of how easy it would be to fall off the wagon. But maybe I won’t, because I’ve discovered how good an antidote to stress and overwork exercise is.

Usually, when I’m feeling weary and stretched too thin by life, I want more than anything to curl up in a ball, lick my wounds and get some rest. That’s what I think I need.

However, exercise tackles the problem from a different angle. Instead of aiming for recuperation and repair, it increases our up-front capacity. It helps keep energy and mood from tanking in the first place, so we are better able to deal with a demanding life.

Of course this is nothing new. Everyone tells you this all the time. But there’s nothing like discovering it for yourself.