Welcome to the first official installment in the self-care series! Not sure what self-care is? You can read about that here in the introductory post.
As with any form of self-care, finding what genuinely works for you is the true key to finding a health balance in your lifestyle. But when it comes to exercise, finding what works for you and how to make it work for you is the most important aspect, especially if exercise hasn’t been your most favorite activity in the past.
Health (mentally or physically) isn’t something that’s going to fall into your lap. Ask anyone who’s trying to lose weight or has gone through the process of therapy. It’s a series of ups and downs, gains and losses. It’s about continuing to look for those ups when you’re in the middle of a down!
Personally, I think that’s where the largest hang-up for many comes from with exercise. We’re all guilty of wanting that instant gratification of losing five pounds in our first week of exercising, but unfortunately, it doesn’t go that way for everyone, and for many, this discouragement leads to quitting – which really points to the larger issue.
To genuinely get started on the right path to exercise becoming self-care, before you take actions like buying running sneakers or work-out DVDs or joining a gym, what you really should do is take some time to think.
Why is exercise something you want to introduce into your life? If it’s to lose weight, why do you want to lose that weight? To improve your self-esteem, to run around with your future children, to live a long life, to have a higher daily energy level… these are all motivations that point toward self-care.
But what if this isn’t where your motivation lies?
What if it’s to get back to your high school weight, to wear a bikini this summer, to make your ex jealous, to not be the “fat friend”… If that’s what’s putting the fuel in your fire, don’t extinguish it! These forms of motivation are an amazing way to kickstart yourself, but eventually, this fire will fade, and that’s where you’ll need a more maintainable, self-care focused thought-process to fall back on. Try coupling your intense motivation with one of the self-care ones – for example, fitting into that bangin’ bikini this summer will no doubt improve your self-esteem and keep you wanting to feel that good!
See how that works? So whether or not you start off incredibly gung-ho and excited to exercise or not – where you mentally need to begin is knowing that you will (and can!) make this a lifelong habit, because the benefits of routine exercise are much greater than hitting your goal weight.
Step Up Your Game
Okay, now, repeat after me:
Exercise is not a punishment.
Excerise is not a punishment.
In May of 2013, I started running because I had been previously doing elliptical workouts, and I knew running burned way more calories. Since May, I have logged 532 miles on MapMyRun… and maybe become a little bit obsessed. Now, why am I telling you this?
Well, my fiancé’s brother and mother are both notorious for going on weight loss kicks and falling off of them very quickly (probably a lot because they don’t start with the right motivation!), and if you know a runner, you know we love to talk about our shoes, our upcoming races, and practically every daily run we ever complete – SO, they know I run… duh. My fiancé is a pretty healthy dude – he eats well, and he lost 40ish pounds (I think about that) when he started college, but after he lost that weight he stopped exercising routinely, so I’m trying to get him back into running. He did three miles with me recently, and we’re signed up to do a color run in May! All of this is amazing to me, and so exciting to see him starting to embrace a long-term healthy lifestyle, but from his family, this is greeted with – “Why are you going to do that? (color run, as if it’s not SUPER FUN!)” or “Oh Daniel, I’m so sorry” (implying that he had no choice but to run with me).
Let me just tell you, if you start out with that mentality about exercising, you WILL fail. Now, you can hate running – that I don’t care about! I was a competitive swimmer in high school and asking any of us girls on the team to run was like asking us to jump off a bridge – but we swam for 10+ hours a week, because we loved it.
What you can’t hate is the whole premise of exercise. Exercise is AMAZING, people. For someone recovering from anxiety, exercise always kept me centered, and it still does. It peps you back up after a long day of work or class (or both!). It gets your day started off on the right foot. It builds your confidence. It helps you stay at a healthy weight, or helps you get to a healthy weight! It makes you a total badass. It helps you avoid becoming a murder.
So you can’t hate exercise, okay? But you can hate some of this stuff:
Hate moving fast or breaking a sweat? Buy a book on strength training or find an app you like that will create a workout for you. Walk! Outside, on the treadmill, at an incline!
Hate exercising alone? There are SO many classes and group activities out there. Zumba, yoga, Crossfit, boot camps, recreational sports like soccer, softball or volleyball
Need low impact exercises? Again walking, also swimming and biking
Don’t want to shell out the money for a gym membership? Use the millions of YouTube workout videos; walk or run outside; go hiking; download a free app that creates at home workouts for you (there’s TONS. I use one called Bodbot).
Don’t think that exercising means you are confined to a jail cell in the form of a cardio machine, if that’s what you hate! For me, running and cardio machines are where I’m most comfortable. I love the feeling of “hard work” it gives me; I love the sweat and I love the feeling of muscle fatigue and pride afterward. But that isn’t for everyone – and that’s okay, because there’s so many options!
Try and try and try again. Once you find something that works for you, you’ll just know. It’ll click and more importantly, you’ll enjoy it.
Make it Forever
The most important thing about exercise, and any of these self-care posts, is that it’s got to be sustainable. When I first starting making my exercise regimen a forever decision, I was a disgustingly over-scheduled, ridiculously stressed out college student, so what was sustainable for me was spending 20-30 minutes in the gym 3 days a week. Sometimes this meant I was only spending an hour in the gym a week.
And that’s okay. Because it works!
Exercise keeps me centered, and I can feel it in my bones if I’ve gone too many days without it now. Now I exercise 5-6 days a week depending on what’s going on. I basically have the mentality that I could work-out every day and if I don’t, it’s due to extreme soreness or an extremely busy day.
And that’s okay. Because it works!
For me, my forms of sustainability went from “dedicated but stuck” to “insanely dedicated combined with a little more free time to work with”… both of the schedules work(ed) for me, and got the job done – reliably. Reliable is the key – don’t believe that you’re going to go the gym every day if you just can’t. If you’re constantly taking children to practices etc in the evenings and Tuesdays are the only evenings you can get a walk in, then so be it. Walk Tuesdays and weekends. But always walk Tuesdays and weekends. Even if that means getting up early one Tuesday because you have a pop-up something that evening, that’s what you have to do it, because Tuesday is your week-day exercise day. The minute you don’t stick to your schedule is the minute your old habits of putting it off slip back in, and that’s the last thing you want.
As you get more comfortable with your routine, you may find that you enjoy the endorphins, change in energy level, change in your body, etc, so much that you might want to start waking up early on Mondays to get a walk in too. Awesome, that’s amazing! If you can do that, do it! And if not, go back to just Tuesdays and weekends. Catch my drift?
Eventually, for me, I got the point where I LOVE exercise. You may get this point too. Exercising isn’t something I schedule anymore (Except for now I’m on a half-marathon schedule because I’m training), because I know why I do it. I’ve mentioned it earlier, but it keeps me centered. Exercise has been proven in study after study to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and that’s why I do it. I feel off on days without it, and that’s why I know I will always do it – because I believe in what it’s done for me.
So maybe one day, you too won’t need to say “every Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday,” or maybe you always will. As said before, you’ve really gotta find what works for you!
Conclusion – Step-by-Step
1. Believe in exercise. Believe in what it can do for yourself, your family, your overall health, your lifestyle and your entire life. Believe it in so much that you know you’ll believe in it for forever.
2. Don’t be a dummy and hate exercise. If you hate it, don’t do it. Why would you? With so many choices of what you can do to get active, why would hating one form be an excuse? It’s only going to drag you down.
3. Once you find what you love to do, figure out how often you can do it.
4. Don’t overcommit, and then don’t skimp on what you commit to.
5. Drive jog off into the sunset.