Dr. Meagan Stanley
Q: I can't get myself to work out, but I want to be healthy! What do I do?
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Health isn't just about the physical. Learn more about how exercising your body and can also help your mind.
I have always noticed the connection between the mind and body. I grew up with a lot of anxiety and as a child, I really didn’t know how to manage what I was feeling. However, what I did notice was every time I got back from working out with my trainer or softball practice, I felt a whole lot better.
Such a simple connection, but so vitally important. To this day, one of the main reasons I enjoy exercise is because of how it improves my mood, helps me stay productive, and (this is a huge one) improves my quality of sleep (falling and stay asleep). In addition, research suggests that regular exercise can be equally effective at managing depression as pharmacological intervention (Carek, Laibstain & Carek, 2011).
In high school, I sustained a knee injury that forced me to quit playing team sports. From this point on, my fitness level waxed and waned. It became very frustrating when I couldn’t do things that were once so easy. I soon came to realize that this is how many feel as they get older. We can get so caught up in the judgments of where we were and where we are now that working out becomes very unpleasant.
So, as usual, my first piece of advice is to be kind to yourself. Part of this is not comparing yourself to others around you. Although this is so difficult, use this as time for mental practice, just like you train your body. This is an opportunity to retrain your brain to stay focused on the present moment and to not follow negative thoughts about yourself and your progress. Becoming aware and present is something that takes consistency and practice too.
To help with this, you may have to adjust the type of workout you’re doing. I love the energy of group classes, but most days I know I need to workout alone or one-on-one with a trainer. I believe some personalities (and nervous systems) do better with more high-intensity workouts, while others strive in a more calming environment. For some, cardio or weight-lifting helps expel stress, but personally, I prefer stretching and strengthening. I also enjoy exercises that are mentally stimulating, like yoga and classical Pilates, that have a lot of rich history and theory. It’s all about finding what your mind and body prefers so you can eventually discover something you actually enjoy doing.
There will be times when working out feels impossible. And this might be what is best for you that day, so honor that. Although I urge you to check in with your mind and see if not working out is something that you truly want for yourself or if your ego is telling a different story. When my mind is being particularly challenging, these are the days that I throw on my running shoes as quickly as possible and just start walking. Breathing fresh air, being in nature, and discovering new things is healthy in itself.
Exercise is such good medicine for the mind, body, and soul, so I hope you all find something that is right for you. Enjoy your week and I’ll be with you soon.
Carek, P. J., Laibstain, S. E., & Carek, S. M. (2011). Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 41(1), 15-28.
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