I was talking to a friend the other day. He had read one of my blog posts and was asking if I was training for a triathalon. This launched us into a discussion about biking. I explained why I don’t like it. It takes a lot of time. The equipment is expensive. After two crashes, it scares me. “Basically,” I said, “I want my workouts to relieve stress…not create it.”
That short conversation got me thinking. What does exercise do for me? It’s a whole lot more than physical. Yes, it keeps me fit, but after all my years of pounding the pavement, cranking out pushups, or tweeking my perfect strength routine, I have come to believe that the most substantial benefit of fitness is what it does for my peace of mind.
I used to think about exercise as a means to an end. The end was physical fitness, challenge, and wellness. I would add to that stress relief. While the end is still the same, the means have evolved. What used to motivate me to exercise; looking good, training or competing for marathons, and weight maintenance, has changed. I’m not sure when it happened, but my reasons for working out are different than they used to be.
These days I care less about the way I look, and more about the way I feel. I care less about training for a marathon, and more about training for life. I care less about my outer strength, and more about my inner calm. The amount of time I spend exercising has changed too. I used to work out 6-7 days a week. I now try to get a work out in about 5 days a week. Running is still a love of mine, however I only do it about 3 days a week. The other days’ fitness is a combination of strength, core, and barre work.
Fitness is more than exercise. Besides the obvious benefits of staying fit (looking good, becoming stronger, feeling good), there are other things such as natural protection from cold and flu viruses, improved self-esteem, and the prevention of certain physical and cognitive problems associated with aging. All of these things, along with the natural endorphin effect that is instigated by exercise, help promote a positive outlook and an inner calm for those who workout regularly. These are the things that I believe motivate me now more than ever, and are my main reasons to exercise.
I told my friend that I might do a triathalon this summer. But if when I start to train, I feel stressed, I’ll stop. For now, exercise should relieve stress, not create it. That is not to say training for something is always stressful. I have many friends who are competing now more than they were in their 20’s or 30’s. They are always training for the next “thing” (whether marathon, triathalon, etc.) They love it, and wouldn’t have it any other way. I think that’s great. It is interesting to see the various reasons people exercise. Why do you work out? Has it changed for you?