I’m not talking about joining a gym, running a marathon, or anything extreme. What I’m talking about is exercise as an IMMEDIATE form of mental therapy, and secondarily a tool for general health and physical fitness.
1.) EXERCISE AS MENTAL THERAPY – MEDICATE YOURSELF!
So – why IS exercise STEP 1… not step 4, or step 5? Other things, such as what you put into your body for instance, are arguably more important than ‘planned’ exercise in many ways. So why does exercise come first? Here’s why:
Exercise has an immediate, positive effect on your outlook and mental well-being.
Don’t believe me? Put it to the test and remind yourself of what you already know – it works. You’re going to use this frequently going forward as you build up the rest of your foundation for success.
To be sure, exercise didn’t start out at the top of the list. I was having a slow day – motivation was lagging a bit. Mentally, I just felt drained. I knew exercise would help, but it was a catch-22. Finally I got tired of being tired. I turned off that inner voice that was telling me how tired I felt and I just started ‘doing’. I changed clothes, put on my shoes, and walked out the door to go for a jog. By the time I got back home 30 minutes later, I felt great and I knew that Exercise had to be bumped up to Step 1. If you’re looking for a quick and effective way to immediately change your mental state, exercise is it.
Use exercise as a mental health tool – a highly effective, all natural, very healthy source of mental energy. Let it be the catalyst for changing the rest of your behaviors.
Since you’re using exercise as a tool, avoid any self judgement. It’s very easy to focus on negative things, such as the fact that you can’t run a mile like you used to when you were younger… or the fact that you might have put on a few (or more) pounds, or that you’re out of breath after just a few minutes…. but your physical capabilities and appearance are not the point. Focus on how you FEEL, your mental state, your energy level after exercise…. THAT is what’s important.
2.) LONG TERM EFFECTS – REQUIREMENT FOR SUCCESS
Secondarily, you’re looking for the long term effects of exercise. You will find that you are less stressed and more easily able to cope with difficulties. You will sleep better, and have more energy and endurance – both mentally and physically.. You’ll feel better, look better, and exude more confidence. In line with the theme of one of my earlier blogs, Big Life Changes Don’t Like Being Alone, you’ll also find that you’re eating better (part of a psychological effect of investing the time in yourself, and wanting to make the most of that investment, IMO).
I didn’t talk much about what kind of exercise you should be doing. Exactly what kind of exercise isn’t quite as important as the fact that you’re doing something. Everyone is different – so find out what works best for you. Most importantly, listen to your body… and if you’re not aware of how or what to do – start simple, with something like walking or simple stretching. Educate yourself, and enlist a personal trainer if necessary.
Personally, here’s what I look for with respect to exercise as a tool for mental well-being and overall health:
- Cardiovascular fitness
- Flexibility and range of motion
- Low risk of injury
- Something enjoyable
This doesn’t meant that everything you do has to fit those criteria, just that you want to be balanced in order to help your body be as healthy as possible.
3.) BE VIGILANT
Be vigilant about fitting exercise into your life. It doesn’t mean sacrificing everything else and becoming a health fanatic. Again, think balance. However, make sure to give a certain degree of importance to this so that a.) you find or make the time, and b.) you actually do something useful with the time.
- Train yourself to look to exercise as a tool when you need it for an immediate boost.
- Really focus on the positive state you’re in afterwards so that your body and mind have a definite cause and effect association between exercise and the positive effects.
- Use exercise as a catalyst to help you work on firming up the rest of the foundational steps – such as good sleeping and eating habits, which we’ll talk about soon.
So what are you waiting for? GET STARTED!