It’s a late Monday evening, and I am writing to you with sore muscles and a belly full of pasta after my first day back at the gym in two weeks. It was a challenging arm and shoulder day. I couldn’t lift as much as I did a few weeks ago, and I didn’t do much cardio at all.
With all this in mind, I am still very content. For me, working out isn’t a stressful routine of self loathing and insecurity. It is a way that I can melt away daily stress and move my body in a purposeful manner that promotes mental and emotional stability.
I have repeatedly preached the importance of healthy relationships with food, so much so that even I am almost sick of writing about it. That being said, in my quest to reestablish this column on the basis of healthy relationships with food and one’s self, I have blatantly neglected talking about another integral aspect of personal health and wellness — exercise.
Just as people can form unhealthy relationships with food, it is also easy to form unhealthy relationships with exercise. Nevertheless, there are plenty of things a person can do to repair their perception of exercise and maintain a healthy relationship with physical exertion.
The single most important part of a good relationship with exercise is to never inherently look at it with the idea that it is a punishment. Plenty of people dread exercise as something they either are pressured to do by society, or as a way to change their appearance in some way. The easiest way to break this negative association with exercise is to find a way to enjoy it.
A lot of people go to the gym to punish their bodies for looking a certain way, or because they feel as though they have to. However, this counterintuitive association with exercise simply establishes feelings of dread and insecurity to accompany one’s relationship with working out.
Working out with the hopes of losing changing one’s appearance shouldn’t be why a person chooses to exercise, and aesthetic change isn’t the only positive side effect of exercise either. Exercise in and of itself can be a brilliant outlet for a person’s mental and emotional tensions. The endorphins that are released have been scientifically proven to diminish the effects of depression and anxiety by increasing production of serotonin and dopamine. The mental and emotional benefits of exercise should be the primary motivators to workout, not the misdirected hope that it will make a person more conventionally attractive.
People should try to find a type of exercise that they actually enjoy. Not everyone likes running, or lifting weights and there are a plethora of different types of aerobic and anaerobic workouts that a person can explore until they find a type that suits them. The amount of time or place shouldn’t matter either. Whether it be a 30-minute workout at home or a two hour run outside, the most important aspect should be that it makes a person feel good.
For a long time, I used exercise as a desperate attempt to get my body to look a certain way. After a lot of self reflection, I realized that working out kind of became a primary mental and emotional coping mechanism that I am grateful to have today.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a terrible experience. In fact I think it is a fabulous opportunity to get in tune with one’s self. That being said, it is still important to exercise because you want to, not because you feel pressured to, or that you want to look a certain way. Exercise should be a willing decision to take care of and love the body, not an avenue of penance motivated by diet culture rhetoric.