Published on January 3rd, 2014 | by Kristen Kansiewicz
How to Win at Exercise: Do It for Your Mental Health
I know, it’s so cliche this time of year… join a gym, set a goal to exercise, do well for approximately 3.5 days, and then avoid the gym for another year.
This article is about exercise, but it is NOT about making yet another wishful resolution. Instead, here are some tips on how to skip the wishing and start to win at exercise, from Day One.
1. Exercise for the right reasons
Take a moment to think about times you’ve exercised successfully in the past. What motivated you? What made you stop?
Many women exercise because they want to look good in a swimsuit or fit into those pants they once wore. Those are externally focused wishes that may or may not come to pass.
Exercise for mental health, to balance your mood, and you will experience immediate effects that will keep you motivated.
An academic article The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed outlines a variety of studies that demonstrate a reduction in depression symptoms as a result of moderate exercise.
The Mayo Clinic also suggests, on the page Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms, that exercise boosts your brain chemistry, improves your immune system, and raises your body temperature, which provides a calming effect.
My own experience proved to me that the research has it right. When I am crabby or anxious at the end of a day, choosing to exercise inevitably changes my mood and hits a reset button in my brain.
Some people think that to begin an exercise routine, they need to join an expensive gym and buy fancy workout clothes. Fight this kind of thinking that is sure to cost you money and make your plan fail.
If you can’t be yourself when you exercise, you will use up important momentum on pretending.
There is no one you need to impress; in fact, this is the opposite of self-care if you tear yourself down mentally and label yourself “less than.” You might not lose weight as fast as the woman on the treadmill next to you, and that’s okay. And so what if you don’t catch the eye of the bodybuilder who just walked by? You’re doing this to make yourself healthier.
Be true to your needs and your journey.
Pull out your comfiest pants, favorite old t-shirt, and those worn sneakers. These choices will circumvent a big upfront cost AND it help you with the next winning tip.
3. Remove the obstacles
The worst possible thing you can do is sit down on the couch while you decide whether or not to go exercise.
The biggest obstacle to exercise is getting your shoes on.
Exercise should not be a daily debate in your mind. It should be part of your weekly schedule.
If you are just getting into an exercise routine, pick the easiest time in your day. If you are not a morning person, don’t make a plan to go at 5:30am.
For some people, going home is an obstacle because once they are home they don’t want to go back out. If that’s you, plan your trip to the gym on your way home and keep a bag of exercise clothes in your car.
Whether your obstacle is sitting down, time of day, or going home, find ways to circumvent it, making the process easier on yourself.
If you are feeling undecided about exercising, quickly change and put your shoes on before you do anything else. Usually once you’re dressed and ready, you will have the momentum to get started.
4. Keep a record of your success
Motivate yourself by tracking the impact of exercise on your mental health.
On your calendar or in your journal answer, “How do I feel right now?” before you exercise. Then hit the gym or streets and get in a solid workout. After you’ve cooled down and cleaned up, answer the same question again.
You may be surprised at how different your emotional state is before and after. Taking notes or journaling is also a great way to document how often you are exercising and observe any obstacles that prevented you from going.
If at any point you feel that your exercise plan is not working, reevaluate. Look at both short- and long-term motivations, and don’t try to do everything on “shoulds.” Getting an exercise routine in place is hard enough without early wakeups, workouts you are not ready for, or pressure to lose weight.
Pressure and stress will negatively affect your mood, while exercise for mental health will improve your mood and keep you balanced.
Let exercise be your equilibrium instead of another drain on your life, and you’ll be on your way to great self-care.
Photo by Eliseeva Ekaterina via Stock.Xchng.