Growing up, I tried to remain physically active: horseback riding, dance lessons, aerobics classes, jogging with friends, wakeboarding, longboarding, but nothing held my attention for more than a few months at most, usually a few weeks. I was never overweight, but I knew I wasn’t health—I wasn’t fit. I knew how alive I felt after exercising. But when my life got busy, exercising fell to the back-burner, again and again.
Two things changed my outlook on exercising. One came with my baby girl: unwanted weight and baby blues. My self-esteem plummeted, and I hated it—I hated me. I felt sluggish, useless, and it was winter in Idaho, so I constantly felt trapped and antsy. I wanted to be more for my daughter, an example of high self-esteem and happiness. But that goal was far from what I had become.
But the second thing, along with encouragement from my husband, came through school: I took a Women’s Health class—a class that I recommend every woman of every major take. In that class I learned that while becoming physically fit has its advantages for your physique, the most important benefits are for your physical and emotional health. Exercising couldn’t be about turning me into a bikini-bomb-shell, because the reality is that few people who exercise will ever feel that way about their looks. Exercising became an opportunity for me to feel strong, successful, and pro-active. I was no longer holding a daily pity party; instead, I took charge and dealt with my problems. And even after exercising that first day, I felt happy again. I hadn’t lost any weight, and I certainly felt sore in the morning, but I felt alive again. And as I developed a regular exercise routine, three to six days a week, the feeling stuck.
Bob Livingstone, author of The Body-Mind-Soul Solution, explains what happened to me. Livingstone suggests that neurotransmitters are affected by exercise (88). Endorphins are probably the neurotransmitters most of us are familiar with regarding exercise: endorphins release during exercise and make us happy. But on the topic of serotonin production in exercise, Livingstone quotes a study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “Physical activity has the same effect as antidepressants . . . Aerobic exercise stimulates neurotransmitters in our brain to produce serotonin which makes us feel good. And exercise, unlike antidepressants, has no negative side-effects” (90). Imagine: a solution to mild depression that doesn’t require the cost—monetarily and emotionally—that exists in prescription solutions. Of course exercise is not a fix-all; there are some who will still need to pair depression medication with regular exercise, but exercise is the healing power—the natural key God designed in our bodies to deal with depression, stress, anxiety, and sluggishness.
It would be six more months of off and on exercise before I found an activity I loved enough to stick to. ZUMBA fitness was my activity, something I enjoyed so much that after a year attending classes, I went on to license. Since moving to Arizona and having a second baby, I had to cancel my license, but it hasn’t changed my dedication. I discovered myself through exercise. And I became whole. I became a happier, more confident person, a better wife, and certainly a better mother.
Most people know that exercise is good for our bodies. The benefits are endless: exercise sharpens your mind, strengthens your muscles, enables you to deal with stress, improves your physique, enhances your self-esteem, reduces your appetite, clears your arteries, reduces cholesterol, strengthens your heart, reduces high blood pressure, reduces your risk for colon cancer (87) and Alzheimer’s (89).
Do I have you yet?
What if I told you that exercise generates new brain cells, and studies show those who exercised “displayed improved decision-making abilities and improved cognitive performance” (97)? What about the study where “patients with epilepsy felt better . . . [and] improved their seizure control with regular exercise” (92)? Furthermore, exercise “enables you to stay physically strong as you age,” reducing “muscle loss, joint stiffness, ligament failure, and injury propensity” (96). Aka, exercising today staves off the old-fogies’ bed pans tomorrow.
But the bottom line—exercise is good for your physical and emotional health.
Find something active you love and become addicted. Your body and mind now and in the future will thank you. Posted on the chalkboard at my old ZUMBA fitness dance studio Fuzion in Sugar City, Idaho was this quotation: “Exercise because you love your body, not because you hate it.” Exercise because you want to do something good for your body—something good for you, not because you want to fit into a pair of jeans. I guarantee if your motivation is the latter, you’ll likely be disappointed and quit. If your motivation is the former, you’ll be successful and healthy. So start today and love yourself tomorrow.
Livingstone, Bob. The Body-Mind-Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain through Exercise. New York: Pegasus Books, 2007. Print.