I’ve never really been an active person. In fact, I’ve pretty much always been the complete opposite. I’m the kind of person who used to laugh at the idea of exercise and who considered eating only one container of Ben and Jerry’s to be a health conscious move. I avoided exercising because I was not only lazy but afraid to challenge myself in a new way. I was intimidated by the idea of going to the gym and running on the treadmill for more than 6 minutes without cramping and getting off. I was intimidated by all the burly jocks and feared judgment for only being able to bench press the weight level of a starving cat. But beyond that I think I avoided exercising because I didn’t want to engage in an activity I thought I would fail in.
I’ve always been able to create some excuse to get out of exercise. I can easily convince myself that I have no time or that I shouldn’t be exercising after eating an entire plate of french fries for lunch. Even if I’m not doing anything, I can convince myself that doing nothing is better than exercising. And what’s most frustrating about this is that I was never happy in the way that I looked or felt. I felt out of shape, I felt that my eating was out of control and I felt that I wasn’t as physically desirable as my peers. And despite all of these negative feelings, I still couldn’t bring myself to exercise. It’s difficult when you know what’s best for you but can’t bring yourself to give up your old, destructive habits.
My outlook on exercise began to change this Fall when I spiraled into a mini bout of depression. I found myself anxious all the time, emotionally overwhelmed by my personal relationships and unenthused about the future. I didn’t want to die, but I just wanted to drop off the face of the world. I wanted to escape my thoughts and my world. But unfortunately it is impossible to just abandon everything so I decided to take my mental health into my own hands.
I remember my freshmen psychology teacher telling us that whenever he worked with a depressed person that the first thing he would recommend to them is exercise and a better diet. And I’ve also seen “Legally Blonde” so I know a thing about endorphins. So I told myself that I needed to go to the gym, not to make myself more physically desirable for my peers but because I needed to be less anxious. I found that by telling myself that exercise was a necessity for my mental health that I could convince myself to go. It also didn’t hurt that my school schedule afforded me with the time to exercise on a daily basis.
I won’t lie and say that I LOVE exercising. I still think that running sucks balls and that 30 minutes on a treadmill is like 7 hours in real time. But what I love about exercise is that your body takes precedence over your mind. When you exercise you’re too preoccupied to think or worry. The only thing that matters is your heart rate and your body and whatever Robyn song you’re listening to. And there’s no better feeling than getting off the treadmill after a run and feeling completely at peace. There’s nothing more soothing than being so exhausted that your brain doesn’t have the energy to distract or worry you with anything else.
Exercise has given me a feeling of control in my life. It’s measurable success. Every day I try to push myself to do something physically that I wasn’t able to do the day or week before. It’s nice to know that not everything is up in the air. You know, when you’re in classes you work to get an “A” so you can get a good GPA so you can get a good job. And that all makes sense in theory, but sometimes it feels like you’re working toward some abstract goal. Exercise is different. I know when I exercise that there will be concrete results if I work hard enough. And sometimes in a world of uncertainty, being able to run half a mile more than you could the day before can be a huge milestone.
I haven’t really physically changed since I started exercising. It’s only been a few weeks. I think it’s because I don’t really know what I’m doing when I exercise or that I only faintly understand how to use any of the exercise machines. But I have my own personal goals which extend beyond that. It’s so much more important that I go every day, that I commit to giving myself the best chance at happiness. I don’t need a six pack to feel accomplished, just pit stains.