Full disclosure: I am not a certified personal trainer or fitness coach. I do not have a degree in fitness and exercise science. I do not claim to know everything about health, fitness or nutrition. In fact, far from it. While I have always been athletic, I am mostly just a pretty typical girl who simply has an interest in maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle so that I can live my best possible life and share that with others who feel the same way about their personal health and the body they were given.
Although not an expert on paper, I do an immense amount of research (both for myself and in order to pass this info along to you). From there, I pair that information with what I know about my own body, needs and capabilities and from there I develop a workout plan for myself. The bottom line is, maintaining a regular fitness schedule is essential to staying fit, both physically and mentally. It also helps to keep your body more flexible and reduces every day aches and pains. Of course, working out improves cardiovascular health, builds muscle and can get you to the goal weight you always dreamed of but there are numerous additional benefits that exercise offers that deal more with the brain, some of which I will discuss below.
Your workout routine will inevitably change through different seasons of life but through those changes, it is important to keep up some sort of exercise regimen. Today I will give you my personal testimony with fitness throughout my life and how that has changed over the years.
First, let me explain how I got to where I am today...
I grew up heavily into sports from the ripe age of five. By the time I got to high school I was a three sport varsity athlete. Sports always played a crucial part in my life. I was a competitive gymnast from a young age and I joined a travel soccer team after a broken arm put me out of commission in gymnastics. I didn't drop gymnastics after the compound fracture in my arm but rather let it morph into competitive diving and later, competitive cheerleading, all while simultaneously playing club soccer.
Physical activity in our youth is done for much different reasons than those in adulthood. Sure, I initially played sports because they piqued my interest and were supposed to be a fun activity but trust me, there were many days my mom had to drag me to practices while listening to me whine about not wanting to go and how bad it was going to be.
I did not play sports because I was concerned with my weight or wanted to look good (as is a common motivator for many adults). I did it for the commitment, dedication and work ethic that it instilled in me. I did it because I was competitive in nature and sports was a sure way to quench my competitive thirst. I did it because I learned to prioritize at a very young age and figured out how to maintain my school work while simultaneously going to three hour practices at a gym that was an hour away on a typical night. Mostly though, I did it because I was part of a team and being part of a team is truly something special. Knowing that you have support and people who have your back is a bond that can never be broken. Those experiences were true learning moments that will never leave me (which you will relate to if you played any kind of sport growing up).
I played on an ankle with torn ligaments (among other injuries) for years and finally succumbed to my injuries when I graduated from high school. It was at this point in my life (the college years) that I stopped working out regularly and would go for a run when I wanted to get a workout in and played intramural sports because I missed being part of a team.
It was at this point in life where the workouts began to shift...
from a place of feeling community and competitiveness to doing it just to maintain my weight. Because I wasn't hitting the gym on a daily basis, I began to notice that I would feel instantly better when I would go on these runs. The reason for this is because exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria and studies have found it to be effective in alleviating symptoms and, in some cases, treating depression and anxiety.
When I began my first post-college 9-5 job, I began to experience serious back pain while sitting in a cubicle all day hunched over my computer. I experienced intense pain and had trouble sleeping. I finally invested in a really good mattress and a yoga membership and my pain was taken away almost overnight. I began to feel stronger and felt like my body could handle other more intense workouts for the first time in years. Living in the city at the time, however, I could not afford to join an expensive gym so I would stick to Groupons that offered various classes to choose from.
In my situation at the time, and for those who stare at a computer screen all day, all this sitting increases our risk for obesity and puts us at risk for back pain, poor posture, leg cramps, tense muscles, etc.. Aerobic and resistance exercise training has been proven to help as part of routine care and even reverses effects and alleviates symptoms for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Stretching is another great way to help diminish back pain and other ailments. Yoga is a great way to incorporate stretching exercises and reduce pain and discomfort in muscles, especially yin and restorative if you are in more intense pain. If you absolutely cannot find time to exercise, check out my article "Exercises to do at Work to Improve Health."
Finally, when we settled into our first home, we were able to invest in a good gym membership that was close to home (key being the close part). I noticed that finding the right fit in a workout facility and within close proximity to where you live or work is a huge piece of the puzzle toward finding success. I started to get into the classes that they offered. I would do cycling, bootcamp, strength and conditioning, cardio, yoga; you name it, I tried it. I found what I liked and what I didn't like. On days where I couldn't make classes I would do free weights and machines and utilize the track to run. I switched things up all the time to avoid boredom, a problem I had encountered in the past.
For the first time I was actually excited to go to the gym each day. I also realized how much better I felt going to the gym not only physically, but mentally. I was sharper in my work and feeling better in my mood. My stress was alleviated, as well. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress.
All good things must come to an end...
or do they? We ended up selling that house and moving away from that gym that we called our "home gym". Once again, I fell off the workout wagon. I needed to find a new place to call my home gym. Again, I can't stress how important it was to me that my place of exercise be close to home otherwise I wouldn't go.
I found an amazing yoga studio that offered the most amazing sense of community and a great mix of classes, some that were strictly vinyasa flows, others restorative and others more cardio based or incorporating weights. I was able to mix it up enough and challenge myself in ways I never had before in a yoga class. In fact, although this was a yoga studio, I had experienced some of the hardest workouts since my soccer and gymnastics days. Though the workout was tough and painful and made me question if I was going to make it through the class, I always felt so amazing and incredibly powerful afterwards.
There have been multiple studies done that show exercise can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image and regardless of what you look like, it can elevate self-worth. For me it was more about the fact that these yoga classes connected with me on a deeper level and helped me get through some very tough times. I was so inspired that I decided I wanted to do a yoga teacher training and be able to inspire and encourage others the same way I had been. So I did it, without hesitation and now yoga and running are currently my favorite go-to forms of exercise at this time in my life.
In summary, it is clear that my workout routine has changed immensely...
over the years and what has worked during some points in my life has not worked for others. Despite what is it you enjoy doing for exercise, physical activity is imperative for the following reasons:
- Building muscle mass, reducing body fat and a million other positive physical impacts
- Alleviating joint and muscle pain
- Reducing stress, depression and anxiety
- Boosting confidence and self worth
- Building a sense of community
- Inspiring and encouraging yourself and others
- Preventing brain degeneration and improving memory
The list goes on....
As you can see, working out, no matter what that looks like for you, is crucial to mental and physical health and well being. If you don't currently have a fitness regimen in place, try to make a plan that aligns with your needs and capabilities and shoot for at least 30 minutes five times a week. You will be glad you did! For those of you who have a plan in place and adapt that routine to the different season in your life, keep up the amazing work and know that your body and mind are thankful you did!