When I was growing up, I was always running around, playing hide-and-seek and volleyball, bicycling, skating, and all those things kids did before computers, video games, and Netflix (gosh, I feel so old now!).
Then, I hit puberty. I didn’t consider any of those activities “proper exercise”. Nope, exercise was a painful form of torture we had to endure at the gym to get the slim and flawless body the media assured us was the only type worth having.
As I sweated on the treadmill, in the vain in hope of achieving what I now know is an unachievable ideal, all my love for exercise evaporated. I began alternating short period of intense (too intense to be sustainable) exercise, with longer periods of inactivity and binge-eating. Until, frustrated, I gave up exercise for good and became a couch potato.
It was only a year and a half ago that I started exercising again. This time I kept at it. How? Because, now, I actually enjoy it. I know, I couldn’t believe it myself, but it’s totally possible to go from loathing exercise to looking forward to putting your running shoes on (ok, I haven´t taken up running, yet, but you get my meaning).
Here´s the mental shift that must happen to make you fall in love with exercise:
Exercise for health, not beauty
Let’s face it, most of us work out to look more attractive. We may tell everyone we’re doing it to be healthier, but all we really want is to fit in a size 0 and get rid of cellulite, thinking that will solve all our problems.
But, if you exercise to try and achieve an unrealistic ideal of beauty, or simply to look prettier, you won’t get very far. You’ll soon either become frustrated by your lack of progress, discouraged by your weight gain (muscle weights more than fat), or go the opposite way and become a fanatic who exercises way more than it’s healthy (yes, too much exercise can be bad for you).
I know, because it happened to me. I used to expect drastic changes too soon, and, when they didn’t happen, get discouraged and quit. If I couldn’t have the perfect body I craved, what was the point of going through all that effort and pain?
Health. I’ve been suffering through depression on and off for most of my life. When I learned exercise was a natural antidepressant (it releases endorphins that lift our mood), I was sceptical. It took me ages before I decided to give it a go.
I’m not gonna lie. The first time I exercised, I didn’t see any improvement in my condition. Neither I did the second time. Or the third. But, I kept at it for a while longer than I used to when I did it only to look more attractive. And, gradually my mood did improve. I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Getting through the day was a lot easier.
Mind you, exercise didn’t cure my depression entirely on its own. A better diet richer in vegs and fruits, this blog and the support and friendship of my dear readers and fellow bloggers, and surrounding myself with positive people, all helped. But, even now, if I don´t exercise for 2 or 3 days in a row, I feel somehow depleted. My energy levels are lower, and my mood more negative than usual.
Even if you’re not suffering from a mental illness (and I sincerely hope you don’t), exercising regularly will greatly improve your life. It’ll boost your confidence, lift your mood, decrease anxiety and stress, and help you live an active and longer life, so you’ll be able to see your great-grandchildren get married and have children of their own.
When you switch your focus from beauty to health, you’ll be a lot more motivated to make exercise a natural part of your lifestyle. Of course, this shift won´t happen overnight. So, here are a few more tips to help you improve your relationship with exercise now:
1. Take it down a notch
We associate exercise with long hours pulling weights at the gym or long runs on the beach. But, going for a short walk counts, too. And, if you´re just starting out, it´s a much more sustainable goal. As your body adapts to it, you can increase duration, intensity, and frequency. But, you never have to become a marathon runner, if you don´t want to. For most people, moderate exercise for 5 hours a week is enough to stay physically and mentally healthy.
2. Get outside
Some people thrive at the gym. Others hate it. If even the thought of going all the way there is enough to make you lose all will to exercise (and live), don´t. Exercise somewhere else, like your bedroom. Or, better yet, get outside. Walk. Run. Cycle. Play tennis. You can even go hiking. Sunlight, fresh air, birds chipping… they are all natural mood-boosters that enhance the positive effects of exercise.
3. Variety is the spice of lifestyle
I love walking. But if that’s all I do, I get easily bored. I have to mix it up with other exciting stuff. One day I walk. The next I dance. The day after that I do some cardio. Find two or three activities you truly enjoy, and do them all regularly. If you have the chance, try something new as well. It’ll be fun.
4. Find a partner in crime
Everything is more fun when you do it with a friend. Just make sure she, or he, is as serious as you about it. Working out together will keep you both motivated and accountable. If you don’t know anyone, you can sign up at the gym or take a dance class. You’ll find plenty of like-minded people there.
5. Move to the beat
Studies have shown that we work out longer and harder when listening to some good music. I can vouch for that. If I have no music I struggle through a workout. But, when my fave tunes are playing, I get all pumped up. I get through the same workout almost effortlessly, wondering at how fast time flies when you´re having fun.
6. Don´t set goals
I know this seems counter-intuitive. Having a goal to work towards can be incredibly motivating. But, when you´re just starting out exercising, you may set goals that are out of your reach just yet, and get frustrated by your lack of progress. Instead, focus on the process. Focus on how exercise makes you feel, both during and after. Enjoy the rush of endorphins it gives you, and the many benefits it brings. That’s all that matters.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. When you focus on improving your health by doing something you love, it’ll become one of those pleasure you won’t be able to live without anymore. Go on, try it. I dare you.
Are you in love with exercise? If so, how did it happen?