Why Workouts Should = Wellness, Not Work
On a recent episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians, Kourtney and Khloe try to get their youngest sister Kylie to work out with them, hoping exercise will take her mind off her boyfriend problems and anxiety about being hounded by paparazzi. Most of us can only relate to the first half of those problems, but the scene did make me stop and reflect—working out has done so much to calm my anxieties, and realizing that fact has actually made me crave exercise even more. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always that way.
Around the time I started high school, I quit sports. Academic pursuits and making sure my resume was college-ready took precedence, and I wasn’t feeling super comfortable in my own skin anyway. Looking back, these colliding factors are a pretty good indicator of why my anxiety grew throughout high school and college, manifesting itself in mini-panic attacks and long sessions of sitting on my bed, thinking about my stress instead of taking action to combat it.
What I would later learn is that for me, exercise could help clear my head and make me feel stronger and more energetic, as long as I didn’t use it as a punishment. Throughout high school, I worked out in spurts—when I was feeling fat, when I knew I’d be in a bathing suit around lots of people soon (growing up in Florida, this was often), after I ate an unhealthy meal, etc.—but never as a stress reliever. I was thinking of exercise as only a means to an end: work out today and feel a little skinnier tomorrow. This attitude made me dread going to the gym. And the less active I became, the less I felt comfortable playing sports casually or—God forbid—participating in gym class.
Thankfully all of this changed years later, in college, when I became active for fun again. I played sand volleyball with friends when I was home on vacation, found cool hikes to do around my school in North Carolina, and occasionally attempted rock-climbing at indoor gyms. As I started to dabble in these activities, I realized I was feeling better about myself mentally. There’s nothing wrong with binge-watching a new Netflix show, but personally, six hours on the couch doesn’t make me feel great about myself. The accomplishment of reaching the top of a steep mountain or knowing I put my all into a tough kickboxing class, however, is always worthwhile.
I always heard people talking about making “lifestyle changes” over quick-fix diets, but I never really understood what that meant until I put exercise into this new context. Reframing exercise as something that could clear my mind and improve my mood changed my whole attitude toward staying active. Now, I make sure to squeeze some kind of physical activity into each day, and my mind has started to crave the endorphins. If I’m having a tough day at work, I make plans to play tennis that evening, or think about what fun workout video I should try next. The result feels much better than taking out my stress on a milkshake (though that’s more than fine every once and awhile…it’s all about balance!).
In turn, I am a more confident version of myself than I was a few years ago, when I struggled to get myself to the gym. It’s fun to see how your body can stretch and push beyond what you think are your own limits. Teen years are hard enough without making something as great as exercise seem torturous. Play sports, dance around your room, go for a long walk with your best friend—whatever you do, instead of counting calories, I encourage you to take note of how you feel before and after. In my experience, recognizing the effect exercise can have on your attitude puts staying active into a whole new light and makes it much easier to keep up with.
By Maddie Flager, 22