The word exercise often makes people groan; it makes others excited, and still others feel guilty like they should get fit but they just quite haven’t gotten around to it.
Exercise has so many benefits that even in small doses, it can make you feel better about yourself. Earlier this year I started a fitness challenge on my personal blog and it was a great success, both for me personally and for some readers who reached out to me and joined the challenge. I challenged myself to do 30 minutes of purposeful exercise or movement for 30 straight days. My challenge wasn’t to hit the gym with everything you’ve got every single day (unless you wanted to!) or to lose 30 pounds in 30 days. We’ve all seen those aggressive fitness programs. They’re not my style and for many like me who suffer from a chronic illness and fatigue, “aggressive” simply isn’t within our ability right now. Those programs are overwhelming to us.
I wanted the challenge to be realistic but an actual challenge. My theory was that if I committed to these 30 days that by the end of the challenge, regular exercise would become a habit and something I’d desire. And I was right! When you exercise and know that you’ve done something good for your body and your health, you feel better about yourself. It’s a confidence booster. It also encourages you to eat healthier because any progress you see or feel, you want to maintain and improve upon. You don’t want to undo the good things you’ve done by splurging on junk food so you tend to be more mindful of your choices.
You don’t have to spend hours in the gym every day. You may exercise in your home with a DVD or YouTube video, engage in some gardening or other yard work, vigorous cleaning, bursts like running to the mailbox and back, walk the mall, climb some trees: they’re all exercise! I make use of idle minutes. When I’m waiting for water to boil while cooking dinner or I’m blow drying my hair, I’ll do lunges or calf raises. I’ve even shed the feeling of self consciousness and I’ll do calf raises while pumping gas or waiting in line at the grocery store. I decided I wanted defined calves more than I wanted to worry if people thought I was weird. They’re all adding up, those little bursts.
Exercise has many health benefits including improving your mental fitness. It helps you sleep better. On days I hit the gym, I sleep better almost invariably. Exercise fights disease. You’re building strength inside and out and caring for your heart. It makes you feel better and creates more energy. Sometimes it’s an all-out battle with myself to get to the gym. I can come up with 3,476 different excuses not to go (hence, the challenge to make myself go for 30 days). But when I do go, I’m so glad I pushed myself. I feel better. I carry myself better. I feel accomplished. I like the happy hurt: the pain in my muscles I have from having worked them hard.
Exercise doesn’t equal punishment. If you are able to join a gym, often you will get free personal training sessions. Use them. They will evaluate your fitness level and devise a plan for you to achieve your goals. There also should be an array of fun exercise classes from Pilates to yoga to Zumba to kickboxing. You don’t need anything but effort. They should provide any equipment or mat you may need. Please don’t feel self conscious about this. I did at first when we started going to the gym regularly. Then I realized that nobody was checking me out or gauging my progress. They weren’t competing with me or sneaking a peek to see how many pounds was on the leg press (260 pounds, these days though). Everyone is concerned with their own fitness, trying to gain their own strength, and there’s an unspoken mutual respect that is shared based solely on the fact that you showed up to work out.
Whatever you do, do something to get yourself moving. If you do it daily or nearly so, for three straight weeks it will become a habit. You’ll want to do more. You’ll start to see results and changes, good ones. Then you’ll want to see even more good results so it’ll spur you ever forward. It’s a great new habit. I’ve noticed I feel better in general about myself. I’m doing something healthy just for me and I’ve began to eat better (though I wasn’t a junk food junkie before, but I’m making constant better choices). I’ve dropped a few pounds and have some calf and biceps definition. I’m stronger. When I started the challenge about two months ago the leg press was set at 120 pounds for me and I thought that was pretty good. Now, I’ve graduated to 260 pounds and I love it. I can’t describe the good feeling it produces to see those weight numbers go up knowing that my body is stronger.
I challenge you to make some positive steps forward in your health program. What are you already doing? What can do today to move in a better direction? What are your personal tips you can share with me?
Melanie Pickett is a writer and blogger and is currently completing her first nonfiction book. She has battled Crohn’s disease and complications, has a now-healthy son who was born prematurely under challenging circumstances, and survived a 15-year abusive marriage and her first husband’s mental illness and eventual suicide. A wife and mother of two, she loves Red Wings hockey, working out, reading, playing piano, and traveling adventures.