Shift your mindset and empower yourself for lifelong change.
The Benefits of Exercise
The benefits of exercise are vast. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins which are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to improve the ability to sleep, decrease overall levels of anxiety, elevate and stabilize mood, and improve self-esteem.
My Personal Journey
My personal journey is relevant in explaining why I feel so compelled to work with others on lifelong health, wellness, among other mental health and health related topics. During my formative years, a number of circumstances put me in the position of being vulnerable to eating challenges. Food was reliable, consistent, and comforting. It was also something I could control. It is not very surprising at all that I found comfort in food.
Throughout my youth I was tall but overweight. The last straw eventually came when I gained 15 to 20 pounds during my first year of college. I came home feeling even more overweight and frustrated than before. But this time I decided that I wanted to make a change to be healthier and to feel better about myself. I gradually adopted a healthier diet, integrated a consistent exercise regimen into my life, and eventually became an aerobics instructor to make some extra money while attending college and graduate school. I lost approximately 40 pounds and kept it off for 30 years, excluding the time during my four pregnancies.
During each of my pregnancies, I gained 75 pounds for a total of 300 pounds. It was a substantial amount of weight, but my body did what it did, even with exercising until the day I gave birth and eating relatively healthily. After each birth, I worked diligently to get back in shape and lose the weight I gained. Each birth brought its own challenges, but I was successfully able to reach the goal of losing the weight I gained.
Fundamentally change only comes at the core when individuals link to what they think and feel to the way they behave and live according to their values. I Predict, Plan, Put into action, and Practice, the 4Ps model for which my book Free Your Child from Overeating: 53 Mind-Body Strategies For Lifelong Health is based. It is routed in the psychological barriers for lifelong health which is barely ever addressed and the impetus for why health and weight management is not sustained over the long-term. The book is helpful for adolescents, teens, and adults.
I am aware of my patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving relative to eating. I do not deny my impulses, hide from them, or avoid them. I lean into my feelings, observe them, and revel at my humanness while I remain conscious and mindful and remind myself how important it is for me to remain healthy and live a meaningful life. I continually practice these skills, and they are now fully incorporated into the way I function.
It is 30 years later, and I realize, besides the many physiological benefits I acquired, I have learned life lessons that instrumentally and positively contribute to my everyday life.
These life lessons include:
(1) Although I may start out resisting beginning my workout, I have yet to ever regret it when it’s complete. Invariably, I feel proud of my accomplishments and enter my day more alert and energized. No one ever finishes exercising and says, “I regretted doing it.”
Life lesson: This is true with most things we approach that tend to be uncomfortable physically or emotionally. Although we may start out reluctantly, inevitably we feel successful once we are able to acknowledge our commitment and observe notable progress.
(2) Although there may be multiple challenges going on for me at any given time, my workout is reliably a positive empowering experience for me. I recognize for example, that I could feel disappointed by an interaction I had with someone earlier that day and be proud that I reached a fitness goal that day.
Life lesson: Our given day or life in general is not “bad” or “good” — but rather we can have a “negative circumstance” in a positive day, or “negative experiences” in the course of our fulfilling lives. Broadening our perspective and seeing things fully rather than unilaterally (i.e., as all bad or all good or as black and white), allows us to be more open, curious, and generous toward ourselves and others.
(3) I always give myself choices and vary my workout focusing on what suits me and my individual needs at any point in time.
Life lesson: It is important to widen the scope of opportunity for ourselves. That although we want to reach a specific goal, that there may be varied ways of accomplishing it and that no specific way is “better” or “worse”, as long as we get where we want and need to go.
(4) I often find myself getting rigid with my workouts and perceptions of others as I am exercising. Some examples include, “needing” to have a certain spot in a given exercise class, or a judgment about how people “should” behave.
Life lesson: Awareness and challenging our “shoulds”, “ought to”, and “musts” allows for us to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable and tolerating our own foibles and the human imperfections of others.
(5) Working out has greatly contributed to my confidence and positive self-identity. It reinforces the perception that I am physically strong, task and goal-oriented, and have self-efficacy (i.e., an individual’s belief in their innate ability to effectively carry out goals).
Life lesson: The power of the mind-body connection is unprecedented. Our mind and body directly impact one another. If we take care of our body and physiology, our state of mind and psychological well-being will benefit, and if we take care of our state of mind and psychological well-being, our body and physiology will benefit. It goes hand and hand, and it is difficult to acquire one without the other.
(6) For 30 years, and even throughout my four pregnancies, I put in concerted effort, to show up and constantly set new goals and objectives, make observable progress, and re-evaluate my fitness needs.
Life lesson: We can use it as a metaphor regarding how to approach our core values. It signifies the need to always show up, no matter what. Rationalizations and/or fears will likely surface but should not drive behavior. Thoughts aren’t always facts and fears are not good enough reasons to sell ourselves short of what we want and deserve. Also, that effort and consistency is the key to maintaining behavior over time.
(7) As I evolve and age, I need to vary or modify my workout to accommodate my physiological needs and changes. An example is me needing to give up running after giving birth to my fourth child because my hips were no longer able to handle the direct impact.
Life lesson: With evolution, development, and an acceptance of limitations, a shift most likely needs to happen. This allows for a realignment of values, and an accommodation of new goals. A lack of acceptance and inflexibility can result in injury, stagnation, and an overall frustration.
(8) I find myself comparing my efforts and accomplishments to those of other people. As compared to others, I evaluate whether I am working out sufficiently, look as good as, or am as strong or fast enough as they are.
Life lesson: Our mind has the propensity to compare ourselves to others to gain validation or invalidate us and repeat maladaptive patterns of self-criticism and negative self-perceptions. Notice how those people or points of comparison are usually the ones to make us feel less than and significantly disproportioned.
The only person worth comparing our self to is our self. Even though our mind draws us away from ourselves and toward others, we must fight the urge and bring ourselves to gauge our own level of effort, commitment, and achievements. We can seek to make progress based on who and what we want to be.
(9) There are times that although I give it my all while I am working out, I am disappointed by the results. I recognize that the process is just as important because I took the time, worked effortfully, and tried my very best.
Life lesson: Our minds tend to focus on the results of our accomplishments and we often miss out on having gratitude for the process of how we got there. We need to make concerted effort to mindfully think of and appreciate the process, because the process is just as note-worthy as the results.
(10) I become inhibited and think that “I just can’t” or “I don’t have the ability” to finish a set, push through lifting more weight, or succeeding at a new or more challenging regimen. When I work through these thoughts and barriers, I am often delighted to find that I can accomplish more than I ever thought I was capable of.
Life lesson: We often underestimate our human perseverance, strength, and resilience. It can evoke the desire to want to give up or not try at all to avoid potential failure and disappointment. We should make a concerted effort and muddle through these challenges to facilitate confidence, flexibility, and adaptive and improved coping skills.
Exercising is beneficial in so many critical physiological and psychological ways. It is the gift that keeps on giving. My workouts have transformed me fundamentally. It continues to enrich my daily life and afford me with life lessons, a shift in mindset, empowerment for self-belief, and a commitment toward my self-growth.
Blog as published in Psychology Today.