Self-Care at Swat: Exercise

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

I’ve never been someone who enjoys exercising. Some people love getting up at 6:00 A.M. for a 5-mile jog every morning, but I would much rather stay in bed. When I joined the Ultimate Frisbee team freshman year, I couldn’t complete the warmup lap, and I dreaded team workouts. Since then, I’ve spent a summer biking 10 miles a day to and from work, I’ve spent a winter doing hill sprints and agility training in freezing weather, and I am currently training for a four-day biking/camping/kayaking trip. However, I still don’t think of myself as someone who enjoys exercise. How did all that happen?

If you’re like me and you don’t naturally love exercise, there are four crucial factors that can help you incorporate it into your life:

    1) Understanding the benefits of exercise

    2) Finding the right kind of exercise

    3) Letting go of self-blame

    4) Celebrating small successes

1: Understanding the Benefits of Exercise

We all know that exercise is good for us, but it wasn’t until I started exercising regularly that I really understood what a difference it could make. In my sophomore year, I decided that whenever I wasn’t being productive on my homework, I would go for a run instead. Dragging myself out of my room was difficult, navigating the unspoken rules of using the gym was intimidating, and even the run itself was often somewhat miserable.

But during the cold shower afterwards, I almost always felt great. Over time, I found I was more productive on my schoolwork, I began to notice improvement in my athleticism during Frisbee practice, I fell asleep more easily at night, and I was just happier overall. Exercise benefits range from preventing all sorts of diseases to improving your mood, and the more you learn about the benefits of exercise, the more you will recognize its importance in your self-care regimen.

2: Finding the Right Kind of Exercise

I am not a fan of running. Yoga frustrates me, and exercise machines intimidate me. But when I ride a bike, I feel on top of the world. At home, bike riding was rarely an option for me, growing up in a hilly neighborhood miles away from the closest store, and when I did bike it was usually on a bike that was too small for me and cramped my knees. It wasn’t until I spent a summer interning at an aquarium in Florida that I found out just how much I loved biking as a form of exercise. I biked 10 miles round trip each day, sometimes in the pouring rain, and I never tired of it. I lost weight that summer without intending to and felt better than I ever had in my life. When I got back to Swarthmore this fall, I bought my first bike. As I bike around the nearby neighborhoods, I can zone out and enjoy myself and my surroundings in a meditative way, while also exercising my body in a healthy way.

The point is that finding a type of exercise you enjoy can make a world of difference. When I didn’t find enjoyment from running or yoga like my peers did, I started to think that exercise just wasn’t for me. Exercise was a chore — even if I felt better afterwards, I never looked forward to it. But there are so many exercise options out there that there is always something else to try. Besides biking, I get enjoyment from some ab exercises, from swing dancing, and from chasing a disc in Ultimate Frisbee (which is technically running, but feels more like flying).

It can be daunting to try something new — when I went to the pool over break I was terrified of getting yelled at for doing something wrong (it turned out I started swimming in the fastest lane by mistake, but nobody yelled at me). It turns out that a combination of asking people for guidance and feigning confidence can take you pretty far. Whether it’s swimming, dancing, running, lifting, yoga, or anything else, I encourage you to try something new this week and see how you like it — you may just be surprised.

3: Letting Go of Self-Blame

When I stop exercising regularly, I feel like I have broken a promise to myself. I feel lazy and worthless, and it’s hard to start again because I know I will just quit again. Buddhists call this the second arrow. The idea is that one arrow has already pierced you (in this case because you have failed at something), but then you pierce yourself with a second arrow of self-blame. The second arrow, says Buddha, is optional. You have a choice between loathing the parts of you that have shortcomings, and loving and accepting them. Apparently everything just turns out better if you try the acceptance route. (I’m currently working on accepting my hesitance to accept myself…)

Alternatively, maybe you feel guilt or shame about taking time to exercise (or do any other type of self-care) when you have homework to do, errands to run, or friends and family to take care of. This guilt must also be released. Not only do you deserve the care that you are giving your body, mind, and spirit, but you also will not be able to function as effectively if you do not care for yourself first. Taking time for yourself, in this case to exercise, is therefore doubly justified.

4: Celebrating Small Successes

Just as we shouldn’t punish ourselves for not exercising, we should also reward ourselves for every step we take. When I have biked several days in a row, I congratulate myself for still running hard at Frisbee practice, even though my legs are very sore. When I haven’t biked all week, I congratulate myself for taking the stairs instead of the elevator to Parrish 4th. Some days just getting out of bed and walking to class is a major accomplishment, and it’s okay to celebrate those things. Celebrate them with each other, but also celebrate them with yourself. The most difficult and freeing thing is to truly love yourself and feel that your own company and love is enough.

P.S. It’s okay, I’m still working on all of these things too.

Featured image courtesy of www.metoffice.gov.uk

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