When I first began exercising as an adult, I was doing so for all of the wrong reasons. Maybe I shouldn’t say, “wrong” reasons, but not for the right reason(s). We are told to exercise to lose weight, lower cholesterol, increase bone density, etc, but I feel that one of the most important reasons isn’t mentioned often enough – and that is our mental benefit. More on that later.
I have been pretty lucky most of my life in regard to weight, in that I haven’t ever really been overweight, but that didn’t mean I was healthy. I have suffered from an eating disorder (anorexia) on and off for decades and that was, at times, my motivation for exercise. My disordered thinking convinced me that the more I exercised, the more I could eat or the more weight I could lose. I didn’t see that as wrong, as I wasn’t technically starving myself. As I have journeyed through recovery, instead of using exercise as a means to lose weight, I have come to understand that it is much more about what my body is capable of doing…running marathons, lifting weights, etc.
I would have expected that by this point in my life (personal trainer + running coach), I would recognize and understand the benefits of exercise. I do – don’t get me wrong – when it comes to the facts. But bring in the personal, emotional side of all of that and it adds a new level of complexity. During marathon training season, I follow a training plan, which basically schedules my workouts for the week. I add in a strength training session or two, plus core class, and there is really nothing for me to think about. I do the workouts, feel great, and go about life. Once marathon training season is over (usually May/June and November/December) with no training plan and no set workouts, things get complicated. My body is recovering from the training and race I just completed, and that recovery is sometimes more challenging than the training itself. I sleep in, maybe squeeze in a couple of runs and a strength training session and attend core class sporadically.This is all well and good. Until it’s not.
The less I run and the less I work out, the worse I feel. My legs are stiff, my back aches, my brain is cloudy. I want to sleep more, but can’t figure out why I am so tired, as I am not working out nearly as much as I had been a month or two earlier. I know what will make me feel better, yet I can’t bring myself to do it. From past experience, I know that I have the best chance of getting my workout done when I exercise in the morning. When I try to sleep in and head out for my run late morning or early evening, I find every excuse in the book to not do it. I am busy. My head hurts. Homeland is on. Something has to give…I have to change something.
I figured out that I was making a couple of critical mistakes that needed to be corrected in order for me to get myself out of this rut. First of all, I realized that I had been beating myself up for some decisions I made. If I woke up and decided not to run in the morning, I berated myself for the remainder of the day. I made a decision (with the help of my therapist) to live by and accept my choices. Move on and find something else to occupy my mind. I cannot begin to describe to you how much of a difference this has made for me! By giving myself permission to accept my choices, there was no further self-abasement or rationalization. No questions, no arguments, no berating. It is like I flipped a switch.
Additionally, I had been of the mind that if I didn’t get in a certain number of miles or lift weights for so many minutes, it wasn’t worth the effort. I always tell my clients that something is better than nothing, so why couldn’t I follow that advice? It was high time for me to start! In an effort to keep myself accountable, I began scheduling workouts with my friend, Sue. One morning I didn’t have time to get in much of a run before we lifted weights, but I decided to take the time when I otherwise would have surfed Facebook on my phone and hopped on the treadmill. I managed to squeeze in “just” a mile, and the difference it made in my mental state was totally unexpected. It seemed as though I had run more like 4 or 5 miles, judging by the way I felt mentally. After that brief one mile run, I had a fabulous weight workout, and my whole day gained a much brighter perspective.
Sweaty and happy after a treadmill run and weight lifting session.
Since that day, I have applied these lessons to my workout plans. At the beginning of each week – usually on Sunday afternoons – I schedule every workout for the entire upcoming week. And while I used to enjoy running alone, that approach isn’t working for me right now. So I run with friends. I went back to core class on Sundays. I lift weights. I go to hot yoga. The difference in how I feel today from how I felt in December is like night and day. I wouldn’t have believed such an outcome was possible unless I had experienced it myself. With my new perspective, I took all of the pressure off and focused on just moving. If I found I didn’t have “enough” time or if I only felt like doing so much, fine. The mental benefit I have gained from even 10 minutes of exercise is priceless. I feel good. I feel strong. I am exercising to get that mental benefit more than anything else right now, and because I am focused on that, the rest of it all falls into place.
I had to make the mental shift. Our bodies were made to move. Exercise is the best medicine. The key is finding what works for you. When in doubt, work it out.
Stayed tuned for my upcoming post on how I am fueling gluten-free for my workouts these days. I have a fun new toy that has allowed me to make some fun new post-run drinks.