What does exercise mean to you?

I have a confession………. I am a very intolerant person. I find it hard sometimes to relate to and understand people who don’t think the same way as I do. (Those who know me well will be nodding their heads and laughing right now!) As I’ve got older and hopefully, a little wiser, I’ve come to realise that everybody values different things, this means the way they think and motivate themselves can be the very polar opposite to your way. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong. Rather than judging people you get far more out of social situations if you listen, take an interest and try to learn from other people’s approach to life.

What is amazing is how few people even understand their own reason for doing things. Too often people are like sheep following the crowd and doing what society, i.e the media, leads us to think is the right thing. Taking the time to stop and consider your own ‘why’ gives you the chance to refocus and make sure you are doing what’s right for you. It makes me sad that so many people have such a negative attitude towards physical exercise and so often I think this is because they simply haven’t taken the time to think outside the box and find a way to workout they can enjoy.  Ask yourself –

Why do I want to keep fit?

What type of exercise do I actually enjoy doing?

What motivates me?

By understanding what motivates us we are better equipped to make exercise a fun activity rather than a chore.

A particular recent experience Trail Running on Exmoor had me contemplating my own relationship with exercise.

I was driving back home along the lanes singing along to the CD, feeling happy, pumped and there is no better way to explain it, than simply more alive. I’d found it hard to motivate myself to go, my dog was off sick and I felt miserable seeing her sad face as I shut the door and driving off alone in the car without her. In the car park it was cold, then I nearly killed myself deciding to speed things up I would run ALL of the hills on already tired legs battling an evil earache inducing head wind and boggy fields on the return leg. In the gateways the mud actually covered my shoes! Despite how I may have cursed the mud and wind, several times questioning my own sanity despite all this, I enjoyed myself. Never once did I question my decision to go out or wish I was at home instead. I felt proud to conquer the hills and adverse conditions. I embraced the challenge and loved just being out there enjoying the outdoors even in its less friendly moments: at least it wasn’t raining!

To me this is what exercise is, pushing yourself, embracing the challenge, celebrating the highs and fighting the lows, burning legs and exploding lungs, snotty noses and smelly sweat. It’s not about looking cool, it’s about being cool with what you can do. I love being active and the way being fit makes me feel strong. Knowing that I am ready to say yes and get involved in any opportunity that comes my way because I have that belief in my body to hold up to whatever pressures I put on it. So many more things are possible when you are fit and healthy I would hate to be restricted by my own self inflicted limitations.

However, this is only my personal opinion, it is what works for me. Other common reasons other people have are –

To feel comfortable and confident in your own appearance – Many people exercise specifically to remove excess body fat and tone muscles in a way they believe looks aesthetically pleasing. This is most commonly done using gym sessions, exercise classes and running.

To chase away inner demons and keep mental balance – Many of my own reasons touch on this and you don’t have to have a problem in the first place for this to work for you. Running is proven to release endorphins and serotonin which cause a rush of happiness and sense of well being that directly combat depression. No matter how or what difficulty you choose to workout at just knowing you are doing something positive, healthy and self improving will leave you feeling better about yourself. It is a distraction, a calmer, a release of pent up tension, stress relief, a moment for yourself, it is essentially a form of therapy.

To be social – Taking part in a team sport, joining a club or simply riding with friends can be a great way to get motivated and build up confidence. The camaraderie and atmosphere of a group activity means the pain is shared and the highs are enhanced as you all feed off each others energy. Getting involved in group activities can be the way you make new friends in the first place, it has been for me. As we get older and nights out on the town appeal less and less having a fun shared sport brings new and old friends together in a different but equally fun way.

 There is no right reason to exercise, no perfect combination or alternative correct reasoning, just what works for you. I’ve said this earlier but I will repeat it again here as I believe it so strongly – exercise shouldn’t be a chore. Find something you love and it will become a lifestyle, it may even end up being an activity you spend all week looking forward to. Exercise  has changed people’s lives for the better showing them a healthier way of living that leads to weight loss and a renewed feeling of energy. It can keep youngsters out of trouble, restore people’s faith in human kindness, promote gender equality through the achievements of so many strong and talented sportswomen, raise money and awareness for charities and provide hope for those returning from illness or injury.

Its not all about killing yourself all the time, a good hike with family and friends is great soul food

Being fit broadens your horizons to what can be achieved in life. When you push yourself in a physical challenge and surpass your own expectations, as we usually can if we try hard enough, it instills a new feeling a self belief. You realise how much stronger you are than you thought. You realise what is possible with hard work and dedication. You don’t get this through dieting, you don’t get this to the same extent through gym workouts, treadmills and turbo sessions. The best way to get truly fit, to truly challenge yourself, to truly feel alive, is to get outdoors. There I going being sure my way is right again……..