Exercise Because You Love Your Body, Not Because You Hate It
Self-loathing is all too familiar nowadays. But, though we may have had a love-hate relationship with our bodies for as long as we can remember, we aren't born with insecurities about our physique. Self-loathing is taught. In a world of social media and distorted realities, we are almost pressured to dislike ourselves if we don't conform to society's perception of a 'perfect body'. And, body-confidence is often viewed as arrogance. But, exercising in an attempt to get society’s 'perfect body' is not the right way forward.
Whilst exercising is an excellent thing, it's unhealthy to do it with a goal of achieving something unrealistic. If you want to get fit and healthy to look after yourself, that's amazing! That's exactly the mentality you should have when exercising. But if you’re exercising because you want to change the way you look to fit a ‘goal body’ determined by society, you need to switch up your mindset. Plus, there are loads of other reasons why you should exercise.
- Stress Relief -- Exercise is known to be a huge stress reliever. It can take your mind off of any daily worries. And, physical movement 'improves your body's ability to use oxygen… and blood flow' . It also releases endorphins, the 'happy chemicals', which calm your body and make you feel happier.
- Happiness -- Those who exercise regularly are often happier. I feel great after a run, even if I dread going in the first place. Most of us can hand-on-heart say that we've never exercised and regretted it. Studies have shown that 'physically active people have much lower risks of developing depression and anxiety than people who rarely move' . Exercise is far more than altering your physical appearance, it works from the inside out.
- Improved Sleep -- Sleep is vital to your everyday life. Reduced sleep quality can lead to a hormone imbalance, a lower mood and a severe lack of concentration. The medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, Charlene Gamaldo, says that she has 'solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality' .
- Posture -- Our posture is hugely important. Many of us don't notice, but the way we sit or stand can have severe implications for our physical health in later life. Regular exercise can help fix some postural problems by strengthening our core and balancing our body.
Exercise can be a really positive thing. It doesn’t have to be stressful, or goal-oriented. Go in with the mentality that exercising will make you feel good, rather than look good. It’s a hard mindset to adjust to, but there are things you can do to make it more attainable.
Love the Little Things
You'll never feel at home in a body you view as temporary. If we view our bodies as a work in progress, we will never be satisfied with how we look. And, you won't want to help something you hate. Our bodies are just part of who we are. Sometimes, we can't change them. And, that's okay. What we can do is change our mindset. I know, it's much easier said than done, but start small. Look in the mirror and say one thing that you like about yourself. Do that maybe once or twice a week, and point out something different each time. You'll find you like much more than you thought you did, and maybe even start to love your 'flaws' most of all.
Make it Manageable
If you are exercising with an aim to lose some weight, don't expect to look like a supermodel after twenty minutes on a treadmill. Take it easy. Pushing yourself further than is comfortable can be really dangerous, as can losing lots of weight in a short period. Take it step by step. The more manageable it is, the more likely you are to stick at it and enjoy it. I’ve personally found Couch to 5K to be a fabulous and free tool to help ease you into regular exercise. Baring in mind I hadn't exercised since Year 9 PE, I found it really manageable and not at all daunting. I noticed my fitness improving with each run, and it boosted my mood and felt great to do. There are loads of accessible, free resources out there to help guide you through exercises. You don’t have to be a pro from day one, it’s okay to seek help if you aren’t sure what to do or how to do it.
We've all been down the rabbit hole of wishing we looked like somebody else. It's a vicious mindset, and, sadly, it's prevalent with us all. What's essential to retain, is that even if we all ate the same meals and did the same exercise routine, we would still all look different. Comparing yourself to someone else is hard to shake, but it's so important to do so. Instead, appreciate that you like something about them, and practice enjoying things about yourself also. They are probably comparing themselves to you, too.
Pinch of Salt
Fundamentally, the aim is to love your body, regardless of whether it fulfils your 'body goals' or not. And, yeah, it's ideal to exercise because you care for your body, not because you're desperate to change it. But that takes time. As I said earlier, self-loathing is taught, and when it is, the roots are deep. Try not to get frustrated with yourself if you missed your daily exercise today, or if you have a day where you don't feel body positive. It's a process. Sometimes, it's not about self-love or self-hate, it's about the middle-ground. It's about finding a point where you can say 'I feel okay with my body'. This is all about you, no more. So, don't sweat the small things, just do what makes you and your body happy.
- Madell R. Exercise as Stress Relief [Internet]. Healthline. 2012.
- Reynolds G. Even a Little Exercise Might Make Us Happier (Published 2018). The New York Times [Internet]. 2018 May 2 [cited 2020 Oct 15];
- Exercising for Better Sleep [Internet]. Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2019.