Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person’s physical, emotional, and mental states. – Carol Welch
A couple of months ago I changed the time I exercise from the afternoon to the morning. Even though getting up at 4:30 a.m. can be tough at times (OK – it’s tough to do every time), I am able to get more workouts in during the week because there are fewer obstacles to contend with in the morning compared to the unplanned interruptions that can happen later in the day.
It’s amazing how many other people also arrive at the fitness center before five o’clock in the morning. It’s also amazing and inspiring too, to see many of the same folks morning after morning. It seems like more and more people are sticking with their exercise routines.
Not everyone exercises for the same reasons though. Some are training to compete in 10K events or triathlons. Others are trying to loose weight or to simply maintain what they have. But some of the most positive effects of exercise have nothing to do with performance or body image.
Exercise can help to relieve stress, build confidence and to provide self-care and nurturing. Fitness is not just for the athletic-minded; it’s for all of us. To help provide motivation to either begin, or maintain, an exercise program here are five good, real-life reasons to exercise:
Discover Your Source of Strength
Each exercise session has a goal, a target. Sometimes the goal is to complete a run in X number of minutes, or to lift X amount of weight, or to simply survive. Regardless of the goal, an important aspect of exercising is to create a situation where we can push ourselves and then immediately see the results.
Think of your exercise routine like a lab experiment. The hypothesis you set out to prove is to see if you can achieve what you have determined to accomplish – to do 100 pushups, complete an aerobics class, etc. Once accomplished, you can transfer these feelings of confidence and success from the gym (your laboratory) and into the other parts of your life.
Exercise is indeed a good venue to discover your source of strength and character. It builds confidence and instills a spirit that better connects your mind to your body. It helps you appreciate the value of goal setting and ultimately goal attainment. It creates better life balance. Simply put, exercise helps you feel better about yourself.
Control Stress and Anxiety
Some days are just a bummer. Even people like me, who write personal development and success blogs, have bad days too. We make mistakes, miss deadlines, and sometimes people just piss us off.
Exercise provides a healthy outlet to release stress and anxiety. It’s also a good antidote for depression. I know this from personal experience.
About 12 years ago my wife, Mary Beth, was suffering from severe depression. She was in a bad spot and didn’t see much hope for recovery. Our next-door neighbor, Mary, suggested that Mary Beth begin to take morning walks with her as a way to get my wife out of the house and moving.
No matter the weather, Mary would not allow Mary Beth to miss a morning walk. This routine went on for a couple of months and my wife’s depression was slowly lifting. The walks with Mary ended when she went back to work, but Mary Beth kept walking. She realized how much better she felt afterwards and didn’t even consider stopping this healing habit.
Mary Beth took her morning walks to the next level. She lost a cousin to Leukemia years before and felt compelled to register for the Rock n’ Roll marathon which raises money for the Leukemia Society.
She solicited her pledges and began to train hard for the event. When Mary Beth crossed the finishing line on a hot June afternoon in San Diego, she was also beginning the process of putting her life back together. In that moment of fatigue and exhaustion, she also felt hope, courage and a new-found energy to keep going.
Not everyone is born an athlete. Only a select few actually become professional athletes. The rest of us pay their salaries. But in the gym, on the basketball court, we can let go and be the one who attempts the clutch shot or makes a key defensive stop. We are not passively watching, we are engaged and doing.
In elementary school I was always picked last for the playground games. When I’m exercising, I always finish first. After I burn through a workout, I feel like the guy who hits the walk-off homerun. And the good news is, I get to do it again tomorrow!
Listen to Your Body
There is a direct connection between our physical and mental health. When we are fatigued our thinking is not as sharp and our confidence wanes. But when we are rested and full of energy, our actions are more deliberate and our results are more significant.
Listen to your body – it will tell you what you need. The medium to hear what it is saying is exercise. Even now, six years into an exercise regimen that is an integral part of my life, I use my workouts to dial into how my body is doing.
If my knees are hurting or if my shoulder is sore, I pay attention to these signals. I look to see if there is any unacknowledged stress of anxiety in life and I review my eating and sleeping habits. Typically if my body is hurting or breaking down, there is a reason other than the workouts. Information is power; and this information gives me the power to begin changing what I need to in order to optimize both my physical and mental health.
Our lives are indeed busy. Expectations have increased because of the dependency we have on email and text messaging. We are expected to be available and accountable at all times. However, there is 75 minutes each day when I’m not by my computer or cell phone, and when no one is lingering outside my office door waiting to see me.
Fro 75 minutes each day, I get to have Me Time. I plug my music into my ears and I drift off to a different world – a world of thinking, meditating and reflecting on any thing that comes to mind; a world just for me.
Self-care is very important. You need some down time, too. It’s important to be in a place you have created. This safe place is your refuge, if only for a little while, from the rigors and demands of your daily life. Use this time to re-charge and re-focus. Use this time to become reacquainted with yourself.
You are much more productive when you are whole, healthy and feeling good about yourself. Exercise is a great prescription for a happy and successful life.
Keeping your exercise routine going
My exercise routine has been off track lately. The sputtering started two weeks ago when I caught a stomach virus my daughter first had. The days that followed found me with little energy to do much of anything – especially exercise.
On Wednesday, however, I felt strong enough to attempt to re-energize my exercise routine, and myself in the process. During my workout, it was clear to me the importance and value exercise has in my life.
If you find yourself sometimes struggling to get back into the exercise habit, consider these 10 ways to re-energize your routine.
- Realize why you miss it. We all exercise for different reasons. Some exercise to loose weight, some to build muscle and others to gain self confidence. I exercise for the latter. Not because I have aspirations of becoming a world-class athlete, but because I have aspirations of becoming a world-class person. Exercise helps me discover my limits and allows me to take pride in my personal accomplishments. These feelings of pride and personal value extend themselves beyond the walls of the gym and into the other areas of my life, too. Tap into the feelings you experience when your exercise program gets off track. Ask yourself what you miss most about exercising. Use this information as motivation to get going, again!
- Make exercise a priority. Too often exercise is the last thing we do when we have completed our daily tasks and fulfilled our responsibilities. When the “problem of the day” presents itself, and we have not made exercise a priority, the time it takes to address the problem can leave little or no time for exercise. Consider making your trip to the gym a high-priority item in your day. Block-out the time, put it on your calendar, or wake-up 30 minutes earlier. If you take an honest inventory of how you spend your time each day, you may find the time you watch television, read email, or surf the Internet could be repurposed and redirected to help you re-energize your exercise routine.
- Get plenty of sleep. Fatigue, both physical and emotional, can be a deterrent to maintaining a healthy and consistent exercise program. Make sure you are fully rested each day. Most experts agree that seven to nine hours of sleep is ideal. If you feel you are too tired to stick to your workout regime, consider getting more sleep in order to have more energy to devote to it.
- Vary your routine. Boredom and monotony can settled in quickly if you do the same thing every time you workout. Do a different cardiovascular exercise each time. For example, hit the treadmill one day and ride the stationary bicycle the next. Also, vary your weight-lifting schedule. Isolate a different part of your body for each workout and work those muscles hard. Hit your arms and shoulders one day, your back the next, etc.
- Put fun back in your routine. If you aren’t having fun, you will probably not be doing it for very long. Have fun with your exercise. Jump into a pick-up game of basketball or take a swim. When you have fun, your exercise commitment becomes less of a chore and something that can truly lift your spirits and cause you to smile – something you can look forward to each day!
- Exercise with a friend. Working out with a friend is not only a good way to spend time with someone who is important to you, it also provides for an instant accountability partner. Ask your friend to help hold you accountable to your exercise program. Ask him or her to not let you off the hook if you say you are too busy or too tired. When commitments and goals are shared, they are more easily reached.
- Listen to music or watch television. Running or using the elliptical machine takes time and it takes patience. To help pass the time, bring along a MP3 player or check-out some television. If you combine something you really like to do (listen to music) or do some multi-tasking (catch-up on the news while getting some cardio done) you are more likely to stay committed to your exercise program.
- Keep an exercise log to monitor your progress. Written goals are more powerful than unarticulated ones. At the beginning of each month write down your stats. For example: (1) completed a two-mile run in 18 minutes, or (2) bench-pressed 150 lbs x 10. Each day, record what you accomplished. Soon you will see your two-mile run is being accomplished in 17 minutes, etc. This written record is a testament to your persistence and commitment. It is also a great encourager to keep you motivated and to keep you moving forward.
- Give yourself a break now and then. Exercise should be a part of your life; it should not control your life. When you get the invitation to meet your friends after work for drinks or meet your partner for an unplanned dinner, go for it! Your gym, and your routine, will be patiently waiting for you tomorrow.
- Focus on the positive benefits of exercise. There are some days, toward the end of my workout, when I’m tired and sore and I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Afterwards, when I head down to the locker room to change, the feelings of accomplishment are almost intoxicating. I also feel good about the way I look and I love being able to eat almost anything I want to without guilt or dread of putting on a few pounds. When I focus on these positive things, it is easier to stay motivated.
If we don’t change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are going. – Chinese Proverb