My boyfriend’s answer to everything is to work out more. Insomnia? Work out. Depression? Work out. Creative block? Work out. Lethargy? Work out. Boredom? Work out. Annoyed with your significant other? Work the fuck out. You know what though? He’s not wrong.
I’ve mused before about my apathy, wondering if it’s lack of motivation or lack of energy. I’ve never been athletic and as a kid I was embarrassed about my lack of coordination and decided I hated sports because I wasn’t good at them. I figured it was simply my lot in life to be a couch potato and never really questioned it.
Now I know that sports can be fun, if one is allowed to play at one’s own pace. I’ve also gotten over the assumption that sports must be competitive. I dislike competition because I find it detracts from the fun of games, and ultimately leads to anger and resentment. As an adult I’ve discovered that there are plenty of cooperative versions of sports/physical games. For example I don’t need to play badminton, I can play battledore and shuttlecock, which is basically a cooperative predecessor to badminton.
As I was nearing my thirties I began to take my health more seriously. As happens to us all, I found that my metabolism was not what it once was, and I started halfheartedly working out. First I worked out at home with the wii fit, but that eventually got boring. Then I started going to a gym, but this was tough because as an introvert, having a lot of people around me can be annoying. It’s also difficult to work at your own pace when you keep having to stop to wait for bros to be done sweating all over the machines you want to use. Sometimes I’d go to the gym with friends and I found this to be entirely counter productive. Working out with friends is really just half-assing a physical activity while gossiping about life. Unsurprisingly, I need to be alone to work out. As I was approaching my forties I got to the point where I was financially capable of buying a property big enough to accommodate a home gym, and this space has been a revelation. I use FitnessBlender as my personal trainer and work at my own pace, doing the easy, or hard, versions of exercises depending on my energy levels at the time.
I don’t know if I can blame my anemia, or my laziness, but unlike the promises of every exercise enthusiast, it doesn’t really get easier over time, or at least is hasn’t for me. I haven’t seen any improvements in my strength, flexibility, or agility, but that’s ok, because I’m not trying to be Ronda Rousey, I’m just trying to be me. I work out for my health, and I don’t just mean the physical.
About a year ago I started taking walks during my lunch hours. I’ve found that this not only helps me stay in shape, it’s invaluable in terms of maintaining my sanity. I have no idea how I managed my stress before I implemented this ritual into my routine. My office recently moved into an upscale suburban neighbourhood, and while I miss the convenience of being downtown, and close to the underground city, which was great for continuing my walks even in harsh weather, I really appreciate the slightly more rural environment. It’s nice to be surrounded by trees and impressive architecture. It helps to clear my head and reinvigorate my creative juices (studies have shown a link between walking and creativity), and my ability to tolerate interaction with human beings for another four hours before I get to go home.
And when I do get home I work out some more. Usually, after a long day of sitting on my ass at the office, I’m too tired to work out, but I force myself to do it anyway because I know once I get going I’ll get an endorphin rush and enjoy it. Working out is like taking a bath when you’re a kid. You try to avoid it at all costs but once you’re in the water you never want to get out. Ok, maybe working out isn’t always like that. Sometimes I’m in agony, counting down the seconds until my virtual trainers announce workout complete, but other times working out is simultaneously fun, relaxing, and energizing.
I’ve also gotten into hiking recently, which is surprising to anyone who knows me, because I’m stereotyped as hating nature. It is difficult to be in a forest due to my allergies and aversion to the sun, but as I’ve gotten older my allergies have gotten more manageable, and I can afford to buy the fancy sunscreen that doesn’t feel gross. It turns out that all that advice about getting out in nature to de-stress is actually accurate. It’s very calming to be in the woods, and even though I need to go through an entire box of tissues during any given hike, it’s worth it for the way I feel afterwards. I’m not one to use the term “spiritual”, because I believe it’s just a froo-froo way of saying “mentally fortifying”, but for all the hippies out there, yes, communing with nature is a spiritual experience. Even more so in the winter, for a snow enthusiast such as myself. I can think of nothing more beautiful than the twisted branches of a leafless tree covered in snow.
In the end, my boyfriend is right about exercise. It pretty much is a cure-all. Recently my father’s doctor told him that his health wasn’t doing so great and since he was already eating his prescribed diet the only thing left to do was to exercise. I work in a healthcare related field so I know that most people will try literally anything before turning to exercise. So I was proud of my dad when he actually started working out and managed to successfully improve his health. A lot of people complain that they don’t have enough time to work out, but I would encourage them to make the time. You don’t need to be a professional athlete to reap the benefits of exercise, and it doesn’t take much. Just a half hour a day is enough. I know it can be difficult to find the motivation, especially if you suffer from depression. I know because I’ve been there. But I can also say that by integrating regular workouts into my routine, my bouts of depression are less frequent and less severe. But don’t take my word for it! The science bears this out. I don’t really have any advice on how you can get yourself out of bed and on a walk when you’re depressed, but maybe you can ask a trusted friend to literally drag you out. A depression buddy, if you will.
Exercise is also good for anxiety. I got nervous recently when my boyfriend suggested some friends join us on a hike because I jumped to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a normal person’s pace, but that’s probably a hang-up of mine rather than a real problem. And the best way to overcome that fear is to go on said hike.
As long as I’m having fun it doesn’t matter if I’m keeping up with the Joneses. In spite of all my progress over the years I’m still not athletic but as we age we realize that our lives don’t exist for the entertainment of others. When I first tried yoga nearly twenty years ago I was nervous about doing the poses wrong, and felt embarrassed about my incompetence. Now I know that no one is looking at me because they’re all too worried about their own form. And even if they are looking at me, who cares? I’m doing it for me, not them.