How I Consistently Worked Out for a Year
Photo Credit: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels
Last year, I wrote a piece for CircleAround called How I Made Working Out for My Mental Health a Pandemic Priority. In it, I describe a simple epiphany I had early in the pandemic about reframing exercise as a tool for managing mental health. Of course, we all know that exercise is good for your body and physical health, but that wasn’t always enough motivation for me to stick to a consistent routine. Can anyone relate? The realization that I should be working out for my mental health first, and the clear benefits I reaped from doing so consistently, were game-changing for me.
I'm happy to report, a year later, that I've continued to stick to a consistent workout routine, which has had the added benefit of making me physically stronger but, more importantly, has helped me to better manage the stress and anxiety of the pandemic, parenthood, work, and life while teaching me valuable lessons about growth, perseverance, overcoming challenges, and making time for myself. On this journey of self-discovery, I've even learned to love running, an activity that I believed myself incapable of for most of my life.
In reflecting on this journey, I’ve identified three key factors to my continued success.
Exercise as a Tool for Mental Health
The more you use exercise as a tool for mental health, the more you experience the positive benefits of doing so. Conversely, you also quickly realize how much you miss those benefits when you take a few days off and you start to feel the mounting creep of anxiety and the formidable challenges of daily stressors. This is not to say I never have anxiety on the days that I work out. Far from it. It is, however, notably harder to deal with it on the days that I don’t. There are days when I don’t feel like clipping into my bike or I’m just too busy and overwhelmed to do a bodyweight strength class and maybe I give myself a pass that day. By the next day, I already start to feel less equipped to get through the day, and it’s rare that I allow another day to pass without doing something to get my heart rate up and get back into the rhythm because my mind needs it now. The benefits are immediate, and frankly, addictive.
Make It Accessible
Making exercise easily accessible is another key factor to success. You must clear as many obstacles out of your way as you can. Is there a gym near your home or work? What time of day is best for you to work out? For me, it's first thing in the morning. If making it to a gym is a challenge because of the pandemic, work, kids, etc., then ask yourself what you can do at home or outdoors to get your heart rate up and your body moving. What types of exercise do you enjoy? What motivates you?
I have a Peloton bike and a small dedicated space for stretching, yoga, and strength. Earlier this year, I added a treadmill, following a several-months journey of teaching myself how to run. That said, you don’t need expensive equipment to set yourself up for success at home. You can take spin classes with any stationary bike, ride a real bike out in the world, run outdoors, take vigorous walks, rollerblade — the list goes on and on. You can do aerobics, strength, Pilates, barre or yoga in almost any space.
Find Fitness Partners
Finally, don’t go it alone! Having partners in fitness is key. For me, that’s my husband, who is on this whole working-out-for-your-mental-health journey with me, a few close friends whom I cycle with regularly and a handful of Peloton instructors whom I have never met but who consistently give me the motivation, instruction, and space to push my growth.
Others, of course, may thrive working out on their own. It’s simply a matter of knowing what’s most likely to motivate you. For those who need instruction, there are countless apps that offer quality workout content for free or low monthly fees. YouTube has tons of exercise content for free.
We all know that working out is good for your body, but it can be hard to stick to a routine. I’ve spent a lifetime being hot and cold with fitness. But when I began thinking of it as a mental health tool first and physical health tool second, created a space where it was easily accessible to me and found partners on my journey, it became my ultimate self-care routine and has fostered a tremendous amount of growth.