Everyone knows that exercise is good for you. It builds bone density, helps maintain muscle mass, burns fat, and facilitates the release of endorphins, the good-mood brain chemical. We do it because we know it’s good for our bodies, like eating fruits and vegetables.
Yet, it’s easy for exercise to become another “must do” transaction in our daily lives — something we squeeze into our already-packed schedules. Speaking for myself, trying to get in a daily dose of fitness can stress me out. If I prioritize other tasks or simply slack off because I’m tired, then I feel guilty for missing a workout.
And sometimes I just dread it. I know it will make me feel good when it’s over, but I still cringe at the idea of putting on a sports bra and tights, getting sweaty as an angry rhino, and feeling like someone poured kerosene into my lungs.
So how does one think of exercise as more than a chore? When I interviewed Ally Templeton, a Brussels-based personal trainer and yoga instructor, she put a much nicer gloss on how to think about fitness:
“My philosophy is to make people feel good and not have exercise be something they have to think a lot about. It should blend seamlessly into the day-to-day. Fitness is not just about a 30 minute workout; it permeates all aspects of life. It’s how you eat, how you move, how you talk to yourself and the people around you — it’s really everything. If you miss your workout one day, it’s not the end of the world because you can also be healthy in other parts of your day — getting sunshine, walking, or just living in a way that helps you to feel good and allows you to do all of the things you want to do.”
Thanks to Ally and some of the other great trainers I’ve met over the years, I try to focus on how fitness makes me a happier, better person — the best version of myself. Here are five ways it does so.
Exercise Connects Me to the World
I am a raging introvert. Left to my own devices, I would nest in my apartment all day working, surfing the internet, and snuggling with my husband. I need to force myself out among other living beings from time-to-time.
Back when I was going to the gym, exercise was a great way to meet people who also enjoyed fitness. There’s something about pushing yourself to exhaustion that breaks down the normal social barriers between strangers.
Now that I workout mostly at home, I’ve discovered a whole new, online community of fitness enthusiasts. There are hundreds (thousands?) of groups on Facebook devoted to fitness. People are constantly posting videos of their workouts or posing questions about how to accomplish certain goals, like how to do a pull-up. I’m always inspired by how supportive and kind people are to one another.
Starting this blog has helped me to engage with those communities, reengage with old friends, and make new ones. I’ve reached out to old personal trainers, reconnected with high school and college friends on Facebook, and expanded my network by opening a Twitter and Instagram account. I used to avoid social media like the plague, but this blog is slowly bringing me out of my virtual shell. My passion for exercise makes me want to share my thoughts and ideas with the world.
I’ve also made some new friends through the blog. I’ve met local trainers like Ally Templeton and Orsi Nagyistok by requesting interviews, two people I would have never known but for this hobby. I value these new, personal (and in-person) connections. They help me get through this time of pandemic-driven isolation.
Exercise Connects Me to Myself
Carving out 30-40 minutes for exercise is a super-special time for myself, no matter what the day has in store. Now, I don’t have kids, so my amount of free time is probably higher than those with families. But I still savor that time when I’m not focusing on work or my to-do list. I’m not big on meditation — I just don’t have the patience for it — so exercise is the closest I come to achieving a meditative zone.
Exercise opens up my creativity. I come up with my best blog ideas in the middle of a workout. My blog empowers me to try things I might not otherwise, like experimenting with animal walk mobility moves or exploring jump rope workouts, in an effort to keep my routine (and my blog) fresh and interesting.
Exercise Helps Me Battle Bad Habits (and Sometimes Win)
Luckily, I never took up smoking, drugs, or other hard-core addictive habits. But I do enjoy wine, sweets, and lazing about while eating a tin of pretzels. I still do those things at times, but exercise gives me guard rails. If I have a workout scheduled for late Sunday afternoon, I’m less likely to indulge in a boozy Sunday brunch that turns into a boozy all-day-Sunday-Funday.
I try to be mindful of what I’m eating, if nothing else because I don’t want to negate all of the calories burned by an intense HIIT session. Of course, the key is balance.
I’m Nicer to You
It’s well documented that exercise releases endorphins. So it stands to reason that, if exercise makes me happier, I’m generally nicer to other people. But for me, it’s not just about that post-workout endorphin rush. When I feel fit and strong, I have more confidence in myself. I’m less prone to those nagging insecurities that keep me from behaving like my best self. I move through the world differently — taller, straighter, and with purpose — leading to more productive relationships with those around me.
Exercise is known as stress buster. Putting on a kickboxing video after I’ve had a bad day, and then punching that day away, helps me show up for dinner as a human being again — not the battered gremlin that slunk through the door an hour before.
I’m Nicer to Me
We all have our flaws. Even though I love exercise, I don’t have the perfect body by any stretch. I have a middle-aged belly pooch. I slouch. I hate running uphill, even slightly. I get cranky when caught off guard or when I feel pressed for time. And I sometimes have uncharitable thoughts towards others. 🙂
But I’m also amazed at what my body still allows me to do after all of these years. As I try to improve physically, exercise inspires me to be better in other aspects of life. Instead of hating my flabby arms, I try to focus on that little bit of tricep showing after 5 days of push-ups. I celebrate the ability to stretch deeper after every run. I try to promote the business of local fitness professionals through my blog.
Exercising isn’t a direct path to self-acceptance. But fitness helps me find lots of little reasons to love myself, to accept myself for who I am at this moment. And for me, that’s enough.
I’m interested to know how you think exercise helps you in other aspects of life. Leave your comments below!
Till next time,