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Change Your Life With Exercise

Want to change your life in EVERY way? Exercise more, and in different ways... Here's How to do it.

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but really....

This sounds dramatic, but at every point when my life has felt “off,” something that has always been missing is exercise. Obviously, there are times and situations where exercise doesn’t fix anything. When my dad died, no amount of spin classes or pilates would bring him back. But with processing grief, and any other times of higher anxiety and depression (note: I do not lightly say this or throw these around as buzzwords. Keep reading) exercise made a massive difference.

Exercise has always been a trickle down of positive effects. In terms of healthier eating, I want to fuel my body and fuel whatever my next workout is. Hubby and I secretly love Taco Bell. It’s kind of an all-or-nothing on Taco Bell. We know we won’t feel good afterwords, but it doesn’t really matter if we’ve got nothing going on the next day. But if you tell me that I have to bike for an hour first thing in the morning? No way does a cheesy fast food meal sound even remotely appealing! Suddenly, I think in terms of getting in a good carb (like sweet potatoes, brown rice, plantains etc), a lot of vitamins from vegetables and fruits, and some form of protein. I don’t want to drink alcohol or other sweet drinks because who wants a headache during a workout? Not me! I drink more water because I know the hydration is necessary to make it through. 

exercise for physical health vs. exercise for mental health

Exercise is not a replacement for medical treatment, and I am not a doctor. So if you are having mental health questions or struggles, please contact your doctor. In my personal experience, I’ve seen doctors, received a diagnosis and currently take medication and see a therapist (therapy is not constant for me). That said, my symptoms are significantly worse when I am not exercising regularly. I discussed this with my therapist and she helped me work through a few reasons, which I’m going to share with you now. 

focus on mindfulness

One of the things discussed with my therapist was the use of mindfulness techniques. For me, those are done in some of my exercise classes. Specifically yoga, pilates, and barre have been amazing for this. These classes focus on breathing techniques which is a big part of “mindfulness” as defined by my therapist. Also, in many classes the instructors do their own mindfulness techniques throughout the class. 

sweat it out with cardio

The other day, I was listening to an episode of the RISE podcast by Rachel Hollis with guest Robin Arzon. Robin is the head trainer and VP of Fitness at Peloton. The episode is great and something both cover and agree on is that exercise helped them process through really tough things. Robin was in a hostage situation in which she had a gun to her head (discussed in her book Shut Up and Run, and Rachel Hollis covers some of her childhood trauma in Girl, Wash Your Face including the suicide of her brother. Both mentioned “running out the trauma,” as something they did in addition to other medical treatment. And my experience has been the same. There’s something about putting in so much physical effort into a tough cardio workout that allows for some release of the “tough stuff” going on.

I’ve experienced some trauma myself and my thoughts are the same. And even in other high anxiety times that are not trauma related, running and intense cardio helped. In engineering school, I ran a LOT. It helped that I lived with NCAA athletes (motivation is high when your roommates are on two-a-days! kind of reminds you that a run isn’t that much work). Running was my escape from all of the homework, extracurriculars, and business. In fact, I hated running until college…but that’s a different story. The main point is that running allowed my mind to wander and process through things in a different way than any other. And personally, I prefer to run alone (or with my dog) to really let go. Running with kids is sometimes reality. An excellent running stroller makes this easier, but truly running without little humans really helps me. After discussing with my therapist, she agreed that the release and endorphin rush was important, as well as the time to process, feel emotions including anger and to release them in the hardest parts of a cardio workout. 

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learn what YOU need

The reason I’ve shared these different benefits for myself is to encourage you to try and find what YOU need. At this point, I love to do a good mixture of the “mindful” workouts and the “sweat it out” workouts. The combination allows my body and mind the benefits of each. The mental relaxation and stretching benefits keep me coming back to yoga, pilates and barre. The release and confidence that come from high intensity workouts are like no other feeling for me, so those also have to be a a priority. I also include some strength training into my “sweat it out” but I prefer more bodyweight movements than lifting. Please know that I’m neither an expert and am no longer a size 2 so take that with a BIG grain of salt. But I am healthy! 

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learn what you love; love what you learn

Going along with the whole “learn what you need” is learning what you love or could learn to love. Robin Arzon also touched on this in that podcast episode I mentioned. You may not like a particular workout or class right away, but ask yourself, “could I like this?” Two examples of this come to mind with myself: Pilates and Zumba. I did not really enjoy my first Pilates class. I had nearly zero core strength and had to quit early on most of the exercises (which I hate because I’m type A to the core). But I loved the idea of lengthening, small precise movements, and building strength in the core. So I kept going, and it got better and better until it’s now one of my favorite things!

The other example is Zumba. Zumba is a cardio class that is based on dance movements. Many people LOVE it. So I went to a class….and hated literally every second of it. I tried to enjoy it, but I’m not a good dancer at all. And on top of that, I really don’t enjoy dancing! I could see how happy the other people were in the class, but I just felt off beat, behind, and self-conscious to the core. It was obvious that Zumba was not something I would learn to like. So I went to other classes instead. And that’s OKAY. What works for YOU is what matters. Even if your bestie loooooves Zumba, you don’t have to. If your mom hates Zumba and you love it, go! And to be fair, I did go to another Zumba class several months later to see if my mind had changed. It hasn’t. 

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The thing with the exercise bit is… has always extended into other areas because of confidence and motivation. The feeling of accomplishment in a workout makes me want to feel that sense of accomplishment in other areas of life. It helps you to create (and MEET) goals.  These changes don’t come overnight, but I believe that the first sense of accomplishment does. It will probably be hard, but it’s worth it. Good luck.


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