I found the importance and value of exercise by being forced to do it. I was thrust into a 6am “Cardio Intervals” class as a substitute instructor. As you might imagine, everyone taking the class was more fit than me. I was not getting myself to 6am classes by my own volition and these people were. Suddenly, I was their teacher. Thank goodness the world has plenty of people who don’t care enough, so that someone like me (at the time) would end up in a position like that. Granted, I did sing a song in my interview and I’m good at writing resumes, but here I was. “Under qualified. Not worthy”, exclaims my inner bully about everything I do.
My insecurities were just as powerful as they’d ever been. Being in front of a group of people more fit than me activated them like a virus. Somehow, my desire to fit into the fitness instructor stereotype with obsessive exercising and body shaming taught me the importance of exercise, fitness and healthy eating habits. But how?
I started to notice, on days I would exercise that I would feel good about myself. For the first time in my life, I could look at myself in the mirror and like what I saw. I felt fine about myself because I knew I was putting in the work. I was putting in A LOT of work and if THIS wasn’t enough, then WTF would be? I noticed, because of the frequency of exercise, that if I went a week or so without it, anxiety and depression increased. It’s true what they say, exercise helps regulate mood. But I think my biggest learning experience came when I started losing so much hair that I finally went to the doctor to test my hormones and whatever else doctors do. The tests showed that my cortisol was high.
Cortisol is a stress hormone.
I assumed the stress was caused by my schooling, specifically pre-med and being that I wasn’t going to drop out, I came up with a different, hopeful solution. I started attending yoga classes. I was lucky to end up in a class with an amazing, gateway-yoga instructor. She never got too “woo-woo”, as some would describe, and I was hooked. She spoke about how yoga and exercise was recess and it was an opportunity to slow down to allow ourselves the time that we needed to practice being good people, basically.
After some time, my cortisol level went down. But through my own research I found that the excess stress on my body was coming from frequent, high-intensity exercise. I was doing the get in shape quick routine. H.I.I.T. stands for High Intensity Interval Training, and too much of it causes increased cortisol in the blood. This particular type of exercise favors bringing you into your anaerobic zone for short periods of time and it’s super fun! I do recommend it, but based on the research, no more than 2-3 times a week and only for 30 minutes at a time. Also, to be clear, excessive exercising of any kind will cause hair loss as well as other side effects, such as; pain, injury and even depression.
So, I’m that person. The one who always has to learn the hard way. Can you find your path to believing in the power of regular exercise in a modest, healthy and safe manner? I hope so. But if not, there are plenty of places to go to find hit-the-ground-running, burnout, 45 day challenges, etc. Where you do everything intensely to reach an ideal goal rather than a reasonable one. Maybe you can realize the benefits this way. Or maybe you can take a peek at my TedxTalk on youtube and make some goals another way.
Obsession has been a part of my life for far too long and I would never wish it upon anyone. Life is more fulfilling when you stop abiding by the evil, mean, judging voice in your head and instead work to silence the bastard. This way you find out what is truly important to you. We’ve been rewarding body types achieved through obsessive techniques for some time now, but…
What good is it?
What good are abs doing for the world?! Honestly, I want to know. The hours people spend in the gym to look a certain way, the amount of stress given to meeting goals based on arbitrary standards, has never done anything for any world crisis. If we compile all the hours people spent trying to look like the photo-shopped and/or starving and/or surgery-ed people together, how much time have we spent on nothing? These things that mean absolutely nothing to anyone.
Now, not later. Screw the standards. Find your reason to take care of yourself. It doesn’t have to be torture. It truly is a reward.