I used to find exercising such a boring and strenuous activity, that I tried to avoid it as much as I could (for about 20 years of my life). I had none of it. In school, I used to skip most of the PE classes or not put much effort into the ones I was showing up for. And the fact that I wasn't good at any sport made me dislike physical activity even more. Then all of a sudden, my intention to lose weight and improve my figure raised my awareness on the importance of introducing exercise into my life. So, on a whim I signed up to a local gym. This led me to go regularly and it wasn't long before I started to see the effects of regular training on my body. I started losing weight and sculpting my shape. However, despite this self-actualisation, I still dreaded each visit to the gym. Nonetheless, the more I pushed myself to embrace regular physical activity, the more I started to love it.
So, what’s to love about exercise?
1. The sense of achievement
I get a far greater sense of achievement after an hour of running than after an hour of mental work. And I thought why this is. Surely mental work should be more demanding and stimulating, and therefore I should get a higher sense of accomplishment out of it, than after any physical work.
However, when I work out I feel that I work at a full capacity, without any distractions (not even for refuelling my body) whereas when I do mental work, I find it difficult to maintain the momentum, focus and drive throughout the entire process. Mental work requires me to sit in a comfortable position, which automatically relaxes my brain to point where it loses its productivity potential. Also, this comfortable position is a predilection for the desire for gratification (that snacking can provide) to emerge.
On the other hand, when I work out, I am never tempted by any leisurely pursuits or by the need to stop and snack. This makes me wonder, as during exercise, the body should mostly feel the need to refuel and gain new energy. But remarkably, in a self-reinforcing manner, exercising fuels my body to keep going from its own sources of energy.
2. Time best spent
It’s easy to find excuses for not exercising. Lack of time is the most common one. I used to fall under this trap quite often too, tempted by many other enjoyable things that I could do in the time I would spend exercising. And sometimes I even took the easy way out too, starting to do the things that my mind was craving to undertake over what my body needed.
However, it didn’t take me long to notice that something was missing, that my mind wasn’t working at its full capacity, because the body housing it hadn’t got its training fix and therefore wasn’t ready for work. Disguised as distractions (such as aimlessly browsing the internet or snacking) was my body’s desire to be taken outside and trained. So, as much as you would feel inclined to find excuses for not exercising under the guise of saving time, think about the ‘false economy’ you are making: the time you save by not exercising will be wasted in the time you spend being distracted or the longer time you have to spend working ... by not working at the full capacity that only exercise can set the wheels in motion for.
I am the happiest when I feel that I’ve made the most of my time. Due to the intensity of the act of exercising, the focus, effort and energy required to complete it, I feel like I am maximising the use of my time when I work out, which has led me to conclude that time spent exercising is time well spent.
3. The metamorphosis
Regardless of how tired, apathetic or lacking motivation I feel before I start exercising, my body goes through such a miraculous transformation, that I gradually start feeling more vibrant and energetic after the first minutes of physical activity. As I get into the routine of things and start to embrace the technicality of running or exercising, I start to feel how my mind and body transition from a sedentary state where everything seems effortful to a vigorous state where I feel that I can do anything.
It is well known that the brain releases endorphins (happy hormones) during exercise. It is the reward that our bodies give us to thank us for working them out, in spite of our natural predilection for idleness and leisure.
The quiet sense of content and relief that I feel at the end of my workout routine are truly remarkable. My entire body is fuelled by drive, ambition, desire to do more, climb and reach new heights.
At the end of a strenuous workout, I emerge stronger, more creative and productive than I have ever felt during that day. I feel proud of myself and ready to take on new challenges. I am often amazed by this sudden transformation and it makes me so happy to know that any bit of exercise (even of low intensity) can provide such a quick fix to my mood and productivity levels.
4. It builds resilience, character and discipline
I have an innate tendency to be an undisciplined character with an addictive personality. I indulge in indulging, I tend to rebel against rules, I dislike routine and if I know that something is forbidden then I want it even more. It’s still a wonder to me how I’ve managed to build the good habit of running or exercising regularly. It’s one of the few good habits I take pride in. Exercising has enabled me to discipline my undisciplined self and to keep my urges under control. When I step into a bad trance, exercising re-sets me and returns me to my good self.
Exercise is meant to be hard in order to help us build endurance and stamina. As the common saying goes “no pain, no gain”. You have to suffer (for a bit) before you can be happy. Otherwise, how will you recognise when/that you are happy?
Exercise has definitely made me stronger mentally and physically. It has led me to discover coping mechanics and devise my own the strategies of endurance. I apply techniques like counting, singing, daydreaming, visualising the finish line, even when I am not running or exercising, to help me cope with stressful or unpleasant situations.
5. The best version of myself
Exercising, literally, helps me to be the best version of myself. This may sound cliché, but I’ve come to this conclusion long before this phrase entered the mainstream language. Exercising not only shapes my body into its best version of itself, but it also shapes my mind into gaining focus, thinking clearly, and working productively. Often, I am amazed by how much I get done after an exercise session than after any other activity that's meant to re-energise me (such as sleeping or eating). It’s like exercising spikes my neurons to feverishly link with new ones whilst seeking to experiment and create. At the end of each run or workout, I feel stronger, more vibrant and full of life.