If you are a long-time PD reader, you might remember my “Why I Exercise 300+ Days A Year” post from December 2013. If the title seems a little regimented to you, that’s because it most certainly is. When I think back on that post, written over a year ago, I cannot help but wince at the memories of the self-imposed exercise regime that pretty much controlled my life.
Now, don’t get me wrong: exercise is important, and I am still very committed to making sure I feel fit and healthy. But over 300 days of exercise are moot if a person is neglecting her mental health, which is arguably just as important (if not more so) than having toned arms and a “thigh gap.” It’s easy to talk theoretically about prioritizing one’s mental health, but it becomes much more challenging when put into practice. How does one achieve a balance of maintaining physical health while striving for self-actualization and mental clarity? Where do we draw the line between obsession and passion?
Ultimately, I think the key to understanding the role exercise plays in your life is to examine, honestly, what you hope to gain from the experience and what you actually gain from the experience. A year ago, my answer would have been, “To burn off all fat from my body and never exceed X pant size.” The thing is, I lost all positive associations with exercise during that time. It was a habit, I told myself, like brushing my teeth–something that cannot and should not be avoided, no matter how exhausted or sick I felt. As a result, my routine was simple and unchallenging (interestingly, not because I didn’t want to push myself, but because I literally had no energy to do so): 2 miles on the treadmill every single morning. If I woke up late or had to arrive at work early, I had a meltdown. I wanted to remain a waif, and without a day of exercise, I convinced myself that my body would balloon in a matter of hours.
Now, after many hours with my therapist and nutritionist, my experience with exercise has changed significantly. My goals and outcomes with exercise are congruent; I want to challenge the physical limits of my body because it feels good, fosters opportunities for setting goals, and makes me feel joyful. I no longer feel an overwhelming sense of guilt if I don’t exercise every day, and I’m actually more open to different forms of exercise than simple cardio. When the series of snow storms hit Boston this winter, my roommate and I did acro yoga in our tiny apartment–something I never would have considered doing in 2013. When I visited home earlier this spring, I went on an arduous hike with my boyfriend. Had that occurred a year earlier, I would have begrudgingly submitted, straining every step of the way because I was malnourished and unfamiliar with engaging my muscles in such a way.
Discovering what types and intensities of exercise are best for your mental well-being does require some trial and error, but that’s to be expected. After all, physical and mental expressions are so intertwined, making it difficult to distinguish whether or not we’re making the right decisions for ourselves and our bodies. The practice also requires honesty: you must ask yourself what your underlying motives are when you plan to exercise. When all those pieces come together, you’ll be amazed at how rejuvenating a workout can be 🙂
So, what about you? Do you feel like a slave to exercise, or does your routine enhance your happiness?
Photo: David R. via Flickr