Exactly like many runners, my end goal when I first stepped onto a treadmill, was burning calories. I wasn’t looking for a new hobby, didn’t plan on running a race, wasn’t seeking stress-relief. I was 18 and wanted to burn calories efficiently. I heard running was a low-cost, easily accessible way to do that. So I did.
So I worked up to doing a mile, and relied on my CD player (I’ve been at it a while, now!) to get through the, “I-don’t-like-this-when-is-this-over?”, thoughts. I stuck with it, incorporating walk breaks to extend my workouts, but still had the exercise-is-for-weight-management-only mentality. When I heard people talk about training for a marathon and the fuel required to run one, my only thought was, “why would you run so much you have to eat to keep going?”. In my mind, that completely defeated the point of running.
Fast forward to January 17th, 2016, when I crossed the finish line of my 7th marathon. In the past 8 years, I’ve done 16 half-marathons and countless 5- and 10-K races. I. Love. Running.
“That’s great”, you may be thinking, “but I don’t, so what’s your point?”. My point is, running made me realize that exercise can be catalyst towards a healthy lifestyle of balanced mind, body and spirit.
For me, running became more than a means to an end. It cleared my head when I was upset or stressed, gave me deeper goals than burning calories, and provided a slew of friends, and opportunities I never imagined. I wanted to eat better to support my training, and kept consistent with strength training to stave off injury. I enjoyed running outside and didn’t see it as something I had to do. It was something I wanted to do.
As a health coach my goal is to help others find their running. Here are 3 foundations that make exercise your catalyst:
Finding an activity you enjoy is, by far, the most important piece of the active lifestyle puzzle. Just like you hear, “if you love your job you won’t work a day in your life!”, having an exercise that truly is an interest and joy to you, ceases to feel like exercise. It is something you do because you like to do it. For some, that’s a group cardio class, for others it’s a team sport, and for some it’s a video at home. It doesn’t matter what it is – so long that it’s safe – it only matters that you like it.
Question your workout: Do you feel better afterwards? Being a little sore or feeling it was tough is fine, but feeling like you survived it and are only glad it’s over is a red flag. Do you look forward to it? It is normal to feel you’d rather sleep in, but a feeling of dread whenever you prepare for your workout is not.
Mini-lesson: Intrinsic motivators come from within; passion, enjoyment, or a desire to learn. Extrinsic motivators are outwardly focused; image-based, to obtain rewards, to please others.
Losing weight, and other extrinsic intentions, is a common and sufficient goal to get you started. But what about when you hit your goal weight or fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans? Will you stop? Any type of exercise – strength training, dance, swimming, etc. – with a deeper, intrinsic goal, lends itself to being more than an exercise. Taking an hour Zumba class because you have a blast will add more to your health and happiness than spending an hour on an elliptical because a magazine says you’ll lose weight.
Question your heart: Would you be doing this activity if looks and bragging rights were taken out of the equation? If your workout is to please other people – societal expectations included – then it may be time to dig deeper.
Overflows into Life
When exercise becomes a catalyst, you can’t stop it from positively affecting other areas of your life. If you enjoy your bootcamp class you’ll want tell a friend to join you, and you’ll make friends in the class after sweating it out with them weekly. If you run, you’ll meet people from run groups and local races. Slowly, you’ll find yourself surrounded with people that also like running, spin class, kickball, etc., because it’s become part of who you are.
If the best time to workout is before work, you’ll start going to bed earlier so you aren’t dragging during class. You’ll start paying more attention to what you eat because a fat and salt laden diet makes your workouts harder. Most importantly, you’ll inherently make these small adjustments. You’ll want to eat better so you can lift more weight. You’ll want to hangout with people after run group because you have things in common.
Question your surroundings: Do your workouts fit into lifestyle? Do you feel they align with your friends, values, and food choices? If you’re working out to make up for what you ate, can’t relate to anyone doing this activity and don’t feel like yourself when doing it, it’s going to be hard to keep with it long-term. You can only fake it so long, and when something you are actually interested in conflicts with your workout, the workout will be first to go.
Remember, exercise should empower you. Finding something active you enjoy doing will make you a stronger person, physically, mentally and emotionally. You’ll know yourself better and it will carry over into all aspects of your life.
In short, it’s a lifestyle.
Have fun finding your running, and when you do, invite someone along!