I view getting regular exercise the same way I view drinking enough water and eating lots of vegetables: It’s good for me, but, more importantly, I don’t feel good when I don’t do these things.
I don’t train for a sport, but my daily exercise trains me for the life I want to lead. Because I make a point of maintaining a certain level of endurance, strength, balance and flexibility, the rest of my days feel easier. Gardening, cleaning out the basement, hauling groceries, carrying a heavy book bag, walking to and from mass transit. All easier. And I know that when we go on sightseeing vacations, I can walk and walk for miles if I want. That makes me happy.
What was not making me happy a few months ago was lifting weights. I’ve lifted weights since I was in high school, and I’ve always enjoyed it. I often love it. I’ve followed all types of lifting programs over the years, changing things up as my goals changed or as boredom crept in. So when in August I realized that not only was I not enjoying lifting weights, but I was actually starting to feel bitter and resentful whenever it was “weight lifting day,” I had to take a serious step back and reassess.
What I realized was, no matter how great weight lifting is by objective measures, if it was making me deeply unhappy then it was not great for me…because physical activity should be enjoyable. I asked myself what would make me happy. Yoga and dance and my long morning walks were the answers. So I turned my back on my basement weight room and embraced the yoga mat…and was much, much happier.
Because I gave myself permission to do the type of physical activity that felt right to me, instead of burying myself under “I shoulds” or “I have tos,” I happily returned to my barbells and dumbbells a few weeks ago…because I started missing them. I’m still keeping yoga and dance in my weekly rotation, because I still crave them. My long morning walks are restricted to the weekends now, as with the return of school, I do a lot of walking in the normal course of my day.
I met someone recently who said that a fact she has come to know and accept about herself is that, with any type of exercise, the breaking point where enjoyment ends and boredom sets in is about 6 weeks. When it happens, she tries something new. Nia was her newest fitness adventure. (I need to check that out sometime.)
Exercise shouldn’t feel like a burden. There are so many different ways to move our bodies, and we should be able to feel the benefits while we’re actually moving them. It’s not just about trying to control weight or ward off chronic disease, although those certainly are other benefits. Good health is about more than just physical health. It’s also about mental health. And if you sacrifice mental health by gritting your teeth and doing exercise you don’t like in the name of physical health, exactly how healthy are you, really?