During the first few months of writing my blog, I was also training for my first full marathon. So, a number of my initial posts were about–or at least mentioned–running. I began to notice that those running-related posts didn’t get as much attention as posts on other topics. I mentioned this to a friend, and she jokingly suggested I deceptively title any posts that discussed exercise… like “How to Be a Couch Potato.”
All of that to say: It is with some hesitation that I write this post. Who really wants to read yet another person entreating them to exercise? How many different people at how many different times in how many different ways can say, “Exercise is really important?”
The statistics on the benefits are exercise sound like an unbelievable miracle drug. A story on NPR recently pointed out that, despite the fact that exercise has been shown to decrease episodes of low back pain by 25-40%, it’s not usually part of a treatment program. One expert commented, “If there were a pill out there that could reduce your risk of future episodes of back pain by 30 percent, I’d probably be seeing ads on television every night.”
Maybe we hear about exercise so much that we don’t listen anymore. But exercise is one of those key things that make a difference in how we feel and how we deal with life in general. We can tell when we haven’t had enough sleep. We can tell when we haven’t been eating well. The difference exercise makes may seem more subtle–especially if we’re not used to it–but it makes a big difference.
For the most part, I have always enjoyed exercising, and I don’t need a whole lot of encouragement. I know that is not the case for everyone, and I am grateful that it is for me. Hardly in elementary school, I can remember doing my mom’s exercise videos. (Fun fact: The videos were led by none other than Stormie Omartian of “The Power of a Praying _______” fame. Whenever I hear the praise song, “His Banner Over Me is Love,” I still feel like it’s time to do leg lifts).
But sometimes I need a reminder, too, especially because exercise takes time, and time is not something I tend to have in abundance. When my doctor told me to consider daily exercise as part of my treatment for my mental and emotional difficulties, it helped to change my perspective. Thinking about exercise that way, it’s no longer something to fit in when I have time, it’s something I try to make as much a “must-do” part of my day as sleeping and eating.
As I have navigated significant changes in the past few years, exercise has been an important time to process, relieve stress, and sometimes just get me out of a funk. I remember, in the first month of living on my own, dealing with all kinds of feelings of incompetence and anxiety about my ability to be an independent adult (much less a teacher), I would come home and do part of a Pilates DVD. Those 40 minutes–of someone telling me what to do, breathing, and tensing and relaxing my muscles–was so therapeutic. I remember getting through an emotionally intense summer by taking long walks in the countryside surrounding my apartment. I remember when I first started trying zumba (an early “risk” in my counseling journey) how free it felt to dance and enjoy myself. I remember how much I loved spending time with myself as I trained for my first half-marathon–time alone with my thoughts that would have been torturous just months before. I remember, in the several months after my dad’s death, that it was often when I was exercising that I would finally lose the ability to stay composed, and I would cry and cry. I remember a lovely fall run a few years ago, recognizing an almost-forgotten hopeful feeling that inspired the title of my blog.
For me, exercise usually means running, Pilates, zumba, or exercise machines. To make exercise a part of your life, you don’t have to do any of those things (unless you want to). You don’t have to run a marathon (unless you want to). You don’t have to join a gym or an intense exercise class (unless you want to). You can go for a walk or a bike ride. You can stay inside and look up an interesting exercise video online. You can find a friend or group to exercise with.
However you choose–or whatever you choose–the key is to take that first step (literally and figuratively!). If the physical benefits aren’t enough motivation for you, consider the emotional, mental, and spiritual impact. There’s nothing like it.