I was in a workout class recently following a work trip and realized how much I get out of my workouts beyond physical health. Yes, it is good to get your body moving, to work your heart and to stretch and strength train muscles. However, the older I get, the more I realize that I need the workouts to help me mentally more than physically. If you find yourself saying “I should work out more”, I want to give you three additional reasons to start beyond getting in better physical shape.
Stress Relief – There is something very powerful about a hard workout and being able to process emotions through physical strength. I have been able to get through some of my most stressful situations in life utilizing workouts as my outlet. Sometimes this feels like taking my frustration out physically through motion and giving it my all during a workout session. Other times I will feel overwhelm in the middle of a workout and literally begin crying from the release of emotions. Good thing I’m already very sweaty so no one else really notices! This reaction was quite common in the first few weeks post-hurricane when we were dealing with the highest levels of stress from feeling insecure. I also use workouts to help me through work situations of high stress. I was reminded of this recently when I took a work trip. Work travel may sound luxurious and full of adventure exploring new places but often they are very long days and spent with coworkers, customers and/or vendors the entire time. This means you really get very few mental breaks and adding a workout on to the beginning or end of that day is at the expense of much needed sleep. I try to exercise a majority of the days I travel but it is never as good as when I am at home and attending regular workouts. When I get home from a trip, the first thing I need to do is exercise even though my body is telling me, “you’re exhausted, and you should just skip.”
Community and Social Belonging – I have met the most admirable people through exercise. I’m a lover of cardio and HIIT type programs which has led me to group fitness class settings. I heard a statistic recently from one of my fitness instructors that less than 20% of women work out regularly. For men, it is only marginally better at 23.4% (reference below). What these statistics mean is that when you attend a group workout regularly with others who do the same, you are with people who share some of the the same values as you. You start to build relationships and even do things outside of work together. There is a bit of friendly peer pressure to show up even on days you don’t feel like going and I have built relationships with so many fun people that I feel more secure knowing I could call on one of them should I need something. I also have built social relationships that turn into fun exercise opportunities like kayaking with a group of friends and my daughter. The feature photo of this blog is from a recent kayak adventure in the Intracoastal Waterway off of Boca Grande. What a fun way to get exercise, see nature at it’s finest and socialize with friends!
Mentoring Beyond Work – I also have met some of the most impactful instructors over the years. Most namely, Stephanie of The Fitness Loon in Georgia and Dana, a Jazzercise instructor in Florida. These two ladies have taught me how to overcome mental challenges, how to push myself both physically and mentally to live a better life and how to deal with stress and conflict as life deals out situations that can feel overwhelming. These messages have come to me personally through the relationships we have built and their classes are full of encouragement that not only apply to workouts but also personal and work situations. I have a great deal of respect for both women because of the life stories they have shared with me and how they have overcome their darkest challenges. The reality is that there are some things in life that never completely go away or can be conquered but if we can find ways to keep our minds in a positive mindset, most days can be good. Showing up, stepping up and utilizing mantras all contribute to this and the beauty is that these approaches work both in personal and work situations.
I know it is not easy to commit to working out often and that in some seasons of life, it becomes even more difficult due to stress and competing priorities. However, what I have found is that when I don’t exercise, I quickly enter a downward spiral of my mental clarity, ability to problem solve and even relationship conflicts. My life and work feel less stressful when I commit to working out several times per week. If you don’t workout several times per week already, I challenge you to do so for at least 3 months and see how you feel. I hope you too can recognize the mental health benefits and improve your ability to navigate life’s challenges.