Lena Dunham’s now famous Instagram quote about her motivation for exercising literally epitomizes what I hope will become this year’s new philosophy about fitness—working out is not about being skinny, chasing a dress size, or to look a certain way because you believe that specific size will bring you happiness, but rather to exercise for the vast health benefits that it will bring you.
“Exercise can be used like a vaccine to prevent disease and a medication to treat it. If there were a drug with the same benefits as working out, it would instantly be the standard of care.”
Working out should be about living a long and happy life, not fitting into skinny jeans.
Now, I know that there are those who exercise to help them lose weight…but it is the INTENTION behind the weight loss that matters most.
If you’re trying to lose weight because you’re experiencing health problems then your weight loss intention is to have HEALTH, and this will carry you a long ways.
If you’re trying to lose weight because you can’t stand looking at yourself in the mirror and you believe that once you’re thinner, THEN you’ll be happy, then your intention is based on a lack of self-love and that will NOT sustain you. You’ll just end up an unhappy, unfulfilled smaller version of yourself. Your body image problems will STILL be there, and you’ll continue the cycle of, “I’ll be happy when…”
You can be happy NOW with your body, regardless of your size.
Why You Should Exercise
Do it for your BRAIN! If you set the intention to exercise for your brain versus your ass, you’ll get HOOKED.
The reason so many people come to the gym time after time after time, isn’t because they love the feel of wet, moist equipment, the stank of sweat and body odor, and the foot fungus they get from barely cleaned showers, but they come back because of how working out makes them FEEL. They feel strong, a sense of accomplishment, proud of themselves, capable, in admiration of their ability and so much more. They adore what exercising does for them. They’ve gotten hooked at how much better they’re sleeping, how their self-esteem has risen, how they’ve become more positive and energetic. All of this is possible thanks to the effects of exercising on your BRAIN. Sure, your ass will look good too, sure you’ll lose weight and body fat…. but these things are SIDE EFFECTS of working out, not primary intentions.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are those who start off the new year HARD. They declare that THIS year will be the year they lose the weight. THIS year will be the year they fit into their skinny jeans. THIS year will be the year they burn the two-piece. THIS year will be the year they become thin, beautiful and get a boyfriend….and so they hit the gym 5 days a week for a month straight….
crickets the next month.
Because their intention was not sustainable.
When you work out to lose weight from a place that lacks self-love and depth, it doesn’t have the same motivation as working out to fight depression. Or working out for the joy you get at being able to keep up with your 20-year-old son. Or working out for the energy to babysit your grandkids.
When you work out because you think you’re an ugly duckling and unworthy of being appreciated as you are, then instead of being inspired and naturally pulled by your inspiration, that sort of ugly ducking thinking kicks you in the balls and makes the whole exercising experience a punishment.
Our minds are POWERFUL instruments and if it sees your workout regimen as punishment, it WILL force you to quit. It will NOT work with you, but rather, will work against you. Why? Because it’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. It’s debilitating. It sees exercise as a bad thing and our brains do their very best to keep us from doing “bad” things. When you exercise for punishment i.e. I ate too much today, I’m ugly, I’m fat, I’m stupid, no one likes me, I’m not worthy of love, etc then your brain associates that exercise with punishment and it gets turned into a “bad” thing. The very same thing it’s trying to avoid.
Who do you think will have long-term success…. the woman who works out to have the energy to keep up with her kids and to be in a good mood for herself and for her family?
Or the woman who works out because she hates what she sees and feels she needs to burn off the fat in order to be beautiful?
One is being fueled by love and the other by hate.
Which one do you think will ultimately succeed?
Me, Exercise and Depression
Listen, I know how annoying and irritating it can be to constantly hear people telling you, “Exercise! Exercise! You’ll feel better if you exercise!” but I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t emphasize what an amazing tool exercise can be for those struggling with anxiety, OCD, and depression. I know FIRST hand of this.
I personally work out to fight depression & PTSD. I was diagnosed with depression ate age FOUR, and I have PTSD from a decade plus of child abuse. Exercise is medicinal for me, and in fact, ancient civilizations healers have been recorded to “prescribe” exercise to patients. Indian physician Susruta in 600 BCE indicated that exercise “should be taken every day”. The foundation for Saholin Kung Fu actually came from the surgeon Hua T’o (100 AD) who promoted exercises based on the movements of deers, tigers, bears, cranes and monkeys.
Just like some pop a daily anti-depressant, I pop a daily workout video.
I started working out in 2012, and that’s when I was able to get off my anti-depressant medication for good. I had tried and failed numerous times before. *Side note: Be smart here, I’m not suggesting you pick up a dumbbell and dump your meds, I’m suggesting you ADD in exercise and just see how it feels. See how your brain responds to the natural high, serotonin and dopamine effects. Maybe then one day, with the supervision and green light from your doctor, you can do what I do and no longer be dependent on meds to feel good.
Your Brain On Exercise
- New Brain Cells. Regardless of your age, your brain is capable of rejuvenating and regenerating itself throughout your life. Exercise promotes a process known as neurogenesis, i.e. your brain’s ability to adapt and grow new brain cells.
- Talk About “feel good” Hormones. Your sweat session promotes mental health by normalizing insulin resistance and boosting natural “feel good” hormones and neurotransmitters associated with mood control. These include endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA.
- Reduces The Damage of Stress. Stress is killer on your body and triggers a whole mess of health problems such as premature aging, inflammation, digestive distress, sleep issues and depression. Exercising your muscles actually helps rid your body of the stress chemicals that can lead to these problems.
- Creativity Boost & Problem Solving. Exercise can also boost your creativity, and help you come up with new solutions to problems.
- Fight Dementia. According to John J. Ratey, a psychiatrist who wrote the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, there’s overwhelming evidence that exercise produces large cognitive gains and helps fight dementia. The featured article cites research showing that those who exercise have a greater volume of gray matter in the hippocampal region of their brains, which is important for memory.
- Fights Depression. My favorite reason of all… exercise appears to stimulate the growth of neurons in certain brain regions damaged by depression. What’s more, animal studies have found that getting active boosts the production of brain molecules that improve connections between nerve cells, thereby acting as a natural antidepressant.
- Learning is Fun! Exercise increases the level of brain chemicals called growth factors, which help make new brain cells and establish new connections between brain cells to help us learn. Simply put: It improves learning.
These are just a few, a FEW of the many reasons why you should exercise. None of them require you to be a certain dress size, have a 6-pack, and no cellulite. Again, sureeeeeeee those things are nice, but what’s even nicer is when you prioritize exercise so YOU can feel as good as possible, then those things like weight loss, fat loss, abs of steal, sexy shoulders, strong biceps, firm booty….all of that become side effects! Become bonuses!
Best Way To Exercise
In a world full of late night infomercials it can be hard to decipher which exercise is right.
The answer is simple…it’s the one you enjoy. It’s the one that you can rock out to. It is NOT the one that you dread or makes you want to hide out in bed. If walking is your thing, do that. Like to dance? Shake your tail feather. Find the form of movement best aligned with your interests and perform it daily!
There’s tons of DVDs out there that can cater to your schedule. Some take as little as 10 minutes a day, and some have you working out 90 minutes a day. Pick the one that is appropriate for your level and your allocated time. Or go to the gym, or take a fitness class.
Do whatever form of movement that doesn’t cause you to cringe and slap your face silly. Think of a workout that seems fun to you, (yes, exercising can be fun when you find the right one) and go for it.
“When you brush aside all that get-skinny jargon, you’re able to go into a workout and experience how good it makes your body and brain feel.”
Exercise is just another tool available to you, that can be used as a holistic way to live.
Here’s to hoping that 2016 is the year we see more of brain over ass.
What’s your favorite method of exercising?
I’m all about Jillian Michaels Body Shred program right now, long, sunny walks, and shaking my groove thanggg at Zumba.