8 Surprising Truths I Learned About Exercise
I made the decision to start exercising regularly about 8 years ago. I made that commitment because of 4 main reasons:
- I was flabby and had a lot of visceral fat around my abdomen
- I felt unfit and lethargic
- I felt guilty for not taking care of my health which I viewed as a precious gift
- I wanted to challenge myself
Now, 8 years later, I can attest to the fact that it is one of the most important decisions I have ever made in my life. During this time, I have experienced many ups and downs pertaining to exercise. These experiences have helped me understand certain truths about working out that I would like to share with you in the hope that they help you on your fitness journey.
It Is Not As Difficult As I Thought It Would Be
One of the reasons I did not start exercising sooner was because of fear. I was afraid that it would be too difficult and unpleasant. I was very active in sports up until the age of 18, after which exercise took a back seat. I started to neglect my health and become sedentary. I told myself that I would start exercising soon, but I kept postponing that day. Then one day I went on a cruise to the Bahamas and happened to take a long, hard look at myself in the mirror. I noticed that my waist size had increased from a size 30 to a size 34. It looked like I had a spare tire enveloping my stomach and it was extremely disheartening. That was the turning point for me.
After the cruise, I decided that the time had come to start exercising and subsequently signed up with the local YMCA. I bought new athletic shoes, some exercise clothes, and headed to the gym with a lot of trepidation. I was afraid that after years of being sedentary, exercise would be too arduous and taxing. I vividly recall using the elliptical machine and only being able to last for 5 minutes. I was not prepared physically nor mentally. However, I returned to the gym the next day and managed to complete 6 minutes, albeit at a very slow pace.
I continued going to the gym each day (Monday to Friday) and each time it got a little easier. I started to lift some light weights, too, and slowly, but surely, my body began to get used to the exercise. I realized that the initial fear I had was unwarranted and merely the result of venturing outside of my comfort zone and trying something new. In fact, I became aware of the fact that I was slowly getting used to overcoming my fear. In other words, not only was I becoming more physically fit, I also was becoming more ‘mentally fit’. My fear slowly started to dissipate because, while I acknowledged it, I did not allow it to dictate my actions. While the first few weeks in the gym were not necessarily easy, it also was not as difficult as I thought it would be.
Nobody Was Watching And Ridiculing Me
One of the fears that prevented me from joining a gym and exercising was the ridicule that I thought I would encounter. I was afraid that people would stare and view me as an overweight, unfit and lazy novice. To make matters worse, I had very little experience with gym exercise machines and I anticipated making a fool of myself, perhaps even dropping a weight on my foot! I could not have been more wrong about this.
The dreaded ridicule that I feared never materialized and nobody glared at me like I anticipated. On the contrary, I met some very helpful people in the gym who encouraged me and gave me helpful tips when I asked them. I realized that everyone has to start somewhere and that we are all at different stages of our fitness journey. Sure, there were some people who were much stronger and fitter than I was when I first started, but there also were others who were worse off. We were all in it together.
Many people are hesitant to get active and start exercising because of embarrassment. They believe, like I once did, that they will be sneered at and ridiculed. As a result, they get discouraged, stay home, perpetuate their unhealthy lifestyle, and feel hopeless. It becomes a vicious cycle which leads to even more unhealthy habits.
I am here to tell you that the fear is not based on reality and is only in our heads. You will be amazed just how understanding, encouraging and helpful others will be when they learn about your fitness journey.
The More I Exercised The More Motivated I Became
Unexpectedly, the more I showed up at the gym each day, the more motivated I became. You see, progress cultivates motivation, even if the progress occurs in small steps. My fear of difficulty and discomfort started to dissipate as I began to settle into my new habit of exercising. I was no longer intimidated by the thought of going to the gym, although I still had much to learn.
I began to realize that, sometimes, “it is easier done than said” rather than the other way around. The trick is to simply get up and do it rather than talk about it. The mere act of showing up builds confidence and motivates you to do more. Not doing it only serves to create more discouragement and kill motivation. This is a very important distinction that I learned.
The best thing we can do if we fear something or lack motivation is to get up off the couch and do it… NOW. Even if it means walking to the end of the block, do it… NOW. The worst thing we can do is to not do it. You will be amazed at how small increments of progress motivate us to keep on going. Every journey begins with the first step, so I encourage you to take that step… NOW. You will never regret it.
Not Exercising Makes Me Feel Worse
Human beings are motivated by 2 things: avoiding discomfort (or pain) and attaining pleasure. All our decisions are based on those 2 motivating factors. After exercising for a few weeks and slowly increasing the duration and intensity, I noticed something peculiar. Despite my initial hesitancy to start exercising, I actually felt worse if I missed a scheduled workout day. Not only did I feel more lethargic than on the day days when I did go to the gym, I also felt horrible psychologically. I knew deep inside that I had copped-out and it bothered me. It was as if something inside me had changed somehow. I now felt worse if I did not go to the gym as compared to before when sitting on the couch felt just fine.
Don’t get me wrong, there were days when I felt like skipping my workout, and there were a few times that I actually did. On those days that I did miss, I felt terrible because I knew that I did not have a good excuse. It actually became more discomforting than exercising itself and motivated me to show up regardless of how I felt.
I Had What It Took In Me All Along
One of the wonderful things that I learned after a few months of exercising is that I had the ability to do so all along. After years of doubting myself, feeling discouraged, and believing that exercise would be too difficult, I came to realize that those beliefs were false and not based on reality. I underestimated myself, much as we all do.
I was pleasantly surprised that, while it is not always easy, I possessed the capability necessary to exercise regularly. We all have that capability no matter how unfit we are. What matters is taking that first step, ignoring that frightened voice in our heads, and showing up. After all, how do you know that you are not capable of doing something if you do not try? It is within all of us to be exercise and be healthy. We have what it takes.
Exercise Has Changed Other Areas Of My Life
One of the fringe benefits of regular exercise is that it actually empowers other areas of your life. First of all, I felt better, my resting heart rate dropped, I fell asleep more easily, I gained energy, I was able to concentrate more, and my mind became clearer. And that was just for starters!
Sticking with my exercise routine also helped me to become more confident and resolute in other areas of my life. I realized that if I was able to overcome my fears and self-doubt associated with exercise, there surely must be other areas of my life in which I can apply that same philosophy. I began to see that the fears and self-doubt I felt could be conquered with the same attitude. My business began to do better, my relationships improved, I started to eat healthier, and I began trying new things that I once found too daunting. I still had fears, but the fears did not seem to possess as much power and sway over me. It was very liberating.
I Have Met So Many Motivated People
One thing I did not expect before starting to exercise is the number of motivated and disciplined people I have met on my fitness journey. These people have helped, encouraged, and inspired me tremendously and I am extremely grateful. All of them share one thing in common: the desire to be better and healthier. They have prioritized their lives and made sacrifices. Keep in mind that these people are all at different stages in their fitness journey. They do not all look like Arnold. Some are extremely fit while others are overweight but extremely motivated.
If you go to the library or bookstore often, you will likely meet people who enjoy reading. Similarly, when you go to the gym or engage in other forms of exercise, you will likely meet other motivated people who share your desire to be healthy. If we have a goal we would like to achieve, it helps if we surround ourselves with like-minded people. Many of the people I have met have become close friends of mine. The motivation and enthusiasm they have is contagious!
It Does Not Have To Take Up A Lot Of Time
When I first joined the gym and started exercising, I was unsure of what I was doing, so each workout session took longer than necessary. After a few months, I learned how to make each gym visit more efficient. I learned to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. I became more comfortable with the equipment and wasted less time figuring out what to do.
The amount of useful information on the internet is a blessing. I spent time researching different exercises, weight machines, and exercise philosophies. I now am able to get a fantastic workout in 45 minutes (I lift weights first and then engage in some form of cardiovascular exercise after) or less. All of us can afford to invest 30 to 45 minutes per day doing some form of exercise. It might mean that you have to sacrifice some TV or computer game time, but it is worth it.
There are so many options today when it comes to getting fit. You can take up yoga, join a cycling club in your neighborhood, join your local gym, learn to kayak, do pilates with a bunch of friends, play volleyball a few times per week, the list goes on. You will be investing in and empowering yourself. I suggest doing something you enjoy. Just make sure you do it… NOW.