Exercise: 4 Life Lessons

fitness-1677212_1280When I signed up for membership at a new gym a year ago (two months before it opened), I wanted, but wasn’t certain I had the motivation, to get in good shape. If you asked me five years ago about regular exercise, I would have scoffed at the idea. When I showed up on the second day after the gym opened, a trainer showed me around, explaining what was offered. And then … he asked me to fill out a form, putting on paper my goals. After I shared what I wanted to accomplish, he worked his magic spell on me and pressured encouraged me to sign up for personal training. I fell for it, signing up for two sessions per month for nine months, an hour later kicking myself for spending the extra money. But a strange phenomenon has occurred – more than my physical health improved. (I know. Y’all already knew that and I’m just behind. Better late than never, right?) Imagine that. In addition to my own mental and emotional health benefits, I have learned some life lessons that have also improved how I relate to and serve my clients. I knew, deep down, that there were numerous benefits to exercise. It took my own experience, applying the concepts I attempt to  pass on to my clients, to improve and impact my own life and theirs.

So…here are the lessons I have learned from this experience.

  1. Making myself accountable to something or someone keeps me focused and motivated to change. Because I was paying for training that was not cheap (but definitely worth it), I wasn’t about to waste my money, so showing up for those sessions was imperative. That was all fine and good, but it also meant, I’d better follow the trainer’s exercise program before meeting with him again, or my hard-earned dollars were wasted when I didn’t see any results. In addition, I was able to encourage my clients to apply this same concept to their sobriety by purposefully making themselves accountable to family members or sponsors, from expressing their long term goals to sharing specific daily schedules. It is uncomfortable at first, given our human nature of thinking, “I am an adult and my own boss. Why would I give someone else permission to nag me.” But. It. Works.
  2. Individual personal training and group exercise classes have related but different benefits. The individual attention I got from personal training was very important because I had no idea what I was doing, and prefer not to hurt myself. I’m too old for that! My trainer started by assessing what I could do, what my limitations were, and what I wanted to accomplish, then giving me a variety of exercises to get me to those goals. (No, I don’t want to be a body-building contestant!) He worked from where I was, helping me gain strength. When my sessions recently ended, I felt strong enough to again try the group classes offered. However, the first time in the class was a little overwhelming, comparing myself to other members who had been attending the classes for a while. It’s the same way with individual and group counseling sessions. They have different goals, but both are beneficial, and typically compliment each other. Individual sessions can dig down to deeper content because the individual can be more comfortable to share. Group sessions are about understanding that participants are not alone in their struggles, but without specific comparison. That leads to my next point.
  3. Comparing myself to others is not only futile, but detrimental to my own success, as well as selfish. It took a couple of group classes, watching the other members do more reps, lift more weight, or finish in a shorter time to make me feel like it wasn’t for me. (No member made me feel that way. They were all either doing what they came to do or encouraging me to keep trying.) After about the third class, which took extra time due to my getting VERY sore, that it dawned on me that each member is at a different place, whether because of their age, how long they had been participating, or just their body makeup. Again, this applies to the work of dealing with substance abuse or life in general. Comparing ourselves to others is not the point, because each person is at a different place in life or even in addiction to the exact same substance. If I’m going to compare, I need to compare where I am today in relation to where I was yesterday. Some days will see improvement by leaps, some will be seen as progress because we didn’t move backwards, and then some will need to be about not moving backwards again tomorrow.
  4. Exercise/physical activity is a huge stress reliever when circumstances are overwhelming, frustrating, or just busy. I can say I have finally discovered what the hype is all about regarding exercise. On days I have been: overwhelmed (when a client shared extreme emotional trauma); angry and disappointed  (when I found out my job in a program I LOVED was ending); sad (realizing more people in need would not have the same opportunity); afraid (hearing “we decided to go with someone else” after more than one interview, despite the desire to trust God); undecided (when there was an offer on the table but it didn’t feel right); or relieved (when I declined that “bird in the hand” offer and within an hour received a “two in the bush” offer from the agency I felt sure was the right place, where God wanted me);…exercise was THE BEST MEDICINE for physical, emotional, and mental health.

Even if you can’t get to the gym or don’t have the funds to spend, grab a friend (or allow one to ask you what you are going to do or what you did for the day), and start moving. A walk. A run. A skate. A swim. A basketball. Something. There will be pain. But it feels SO good when you’re done. It’s time to love yourself healthy. You won’t regret it and your family will love you for taking care of yourself. Physically, emotionally, and mentally.

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