Today’s valuable investment can cost as much or as little as you want it to: regular exercise. Now I will not spew facts about how important a weekly run is for your heart or how daily sweat sessions are directly correlated to a longer life. We have all heard these claims from doctors and annoyingly fit friends alike, and a simple Google search will give you more information than you could ever possibly digest. Instead, I would like to share a few ways I notice that regular exercise has directly improved my own quality of life and offer some inspiration for making regular exercise a part of your own habits.
I confess: I have become so wrapped up in homework, job searching, and my own personal challenges the past couple weeks that exercise has been pushed straight off of my to-do list. By the end of the day I would much rather eat a cookie (or five) and zone out in front of the TV before dragging my softening figure into bed.
The thing is, many of the side effects I am experiencing due to increased stress levels (trouble sleeping, tiredness, indigestion, lack of focus, feeling anxious, low self-esteem, etc.) can be decreased or done away with entirely by maintaining regular exercise. Of course, for many of us, exercise is the first habit to go when we face difficult times. We reason with ourselves that a trip to the gym will take too long or that a big bowl of ice cream is a preferable way to deal with our busy lives.
In reality, regular exercise should always stay at the top of our to dos. When I exercise with regularity I find my entire quality of life improves. I sleep soundly at night, and awake ready to roll out of bed – no snooze button necessary. My thoughts are more controlled and my focus is heightened; it takes me less time to complete mental tasks and I am much more productive. Indigestion and discomfort begin to ease and making healthier choices at mealtime becomes much more appealing, not to mention the improvements to our natural body functions, skin clarity, flexibility, and muscle tone.
Perhaps the most important change I notice is that my body image improves drastically with regular exercise. This has nothing to do with actual body shape or size, mind you. Rather, regular exercise is a wonderful way to appreciate the glorious capabilities of our bodies and helps each of us to develop a sense of personal achievement. For anyone, like myself, who has struggled with even looking at them self in the mirror, regular exercise is an important step towards reconciling body image distortion. For additional resources regarding body image issues, please visit the links provided at the bottom of this article.
Ok, your thinking, I know exercise is good but does this mean I’m supposed to start wearing spandex unitards, taking zumba-powerlifting fusion classes, and suddenly develop a taste for a bunch of whole grains I can’t pronounce?
Of course not. The thing about regular exercise is that it is not a one-size-fits-all practice. I have discovered that what works well for me is taking long walks after meals, practicing yoga with a supportive teacher 3 or more times a week, and riding a bike or rollerblading in the park whenever the mood strikes. Some of my friends prefer hitting up the gym first thing in the morning to set the tone for the day. Others have taken to finishing the day with a run and some weight-lifting. For others still, exercise means a daily walk with their spouse to connect with one another.
One rut people get into is not allowing themselves to make changes to their exercise routine when necessary. The time may come when forcing yourself to get on a bike, lace up your sneakers, or pull that yoga mat from the closet is no longer meeting your body or mind’s needs. When that time comes (and this is likely to happen many times throughout our lives), you must be willing to try something new. Sometimes this need for change is thrust upon us, such as having to give up running due to a chronic knee injury. Other times our need for change is more intuitive, such as no longer being refreshed after what used to be a favorite gym class. If you sense you may be in an exercise rut, give one of these fun workouts a try:
Swimming slowly and mindfully
Belly dancing with a group of friends
Taking a stroll through the park
Riding a two-person bike
Playing catch or Frisbee
Doing 20 minutes of high-intensity workout before lunch
Learning a dance with your partner
Trying Tai Chi
Lifting kettle weights
Using an exercise therapy ball
Taking a SCUBA diving course
So go ahead and add in time to exercise to your day-planner now. Commit to moving your body more this week, and observe how it makes you feel. Be willing to experiment a little until you find just the right combination of activities that has you sleeping like a rock and feeling radiant.