I’m not a doctor or trainer or coach, but I know that it doesn’t require any special qualification to encourage you to lead an active life. I’m not going to prescribe working out to lose or maintain weight, to strengthen your bones and muscles, or to lead a long, healthy life, but those reasons are all great (and motivating)! I’m talking about incorporating movement into your life for balance, purpose, and clarity.
Let me explain. When I was little, my mother walked the neighborhood every night after dinner. I didn’t want to go because the thought of breathing heavy and having sore muscles didn’t seem worth it. But without being forceful, Mom always encouraged me to join her. “We can talk about your day, decide what we should do for your birthday party, look at the Halloween decorations in people’s yards…” So one day, I decided to go with her, and soon I was hooked. Like she said, we talked about many things, which was fun and necessary. But I also returned from those walks feeling physically and mentally refreshed.
The “feel goods” I got from those walks were addicting, and it didn’t take long for physical fitness to be a part of my routine. I joined school sports and extracurricular teams. In college, I walked my campus regularly and took group fitness classes. Eventually I became certified to teach them. During the six years I was a certified fitness instructor, even if people came into class dragging and moody, they always left feeling good about themselves. It’s like magic.
But if you don’t like working out or even the thought of it, this “magic” that I speak of can sound more like an unwelcome, unpleasant hassle. So you don’t end up doing it. For those who this applies to, I will say this: in my personal experience, I have worked out in different ways over the years: 1) to train for events, 2) to slim down, 3) to relieve stress. For the first two reasons, I felt this same way…that is, more of the hassle, less of the magic. But when I worked out for a mid-day mental boost or to shake off the day’s blues, the results didn’t have to show on the scale or in how quickly I crossed the finish line. The results showed in my mood and energy, and these results are instant!
Convinced yet? If so, or even if you are already active but would like fitness to mean more than sweating just to look good, here are a few types of activities to consider, and my personal thoughts on their benefits. (All of these activities I do regularly.)
I walk when I want to think or need to change what I’m thinking about. Just passing by the changing scenery, inhaling fresh air, and swinging your whole body puts your mind in motion. Sometimes I wish I walked with a notebook to keep track of my thoughts! It’s my most mentally productive time of day. I find the answer to a lot of my questions while walking, and I find the inspiration for my next article while walking, too. Next time you feel overwhelmed by emotions or thoughts, or underwhelmed by your creative attempts, go for a walk. I guarantee you’ll get your mind moving in the right direction while making your body happy. No equipment required, and you can choose the scenery! Try walking in the early morning to put your mind in the right place, or after a stressful day.
There are so many types of dancing for exercise – Zumba, Nia, hip hop, etc. I dance multiple times a week to feel connected to my body, and express my style in the privacy of my basement. Think about it: most of us like to dance. Even if we think we’re not good at it, chances are it makes us smile and we don’t realize we’re burning calories! There’s a reason we dance at parties, weddings, and clubs. Wherever there’s dancing and music, there’s fun! A bonus for me: I was born with hips, and hips are meant for dancing! Dancing allows me to embrace them by moving and grooving with my whole body. Not sure where to dance? You don’t have to join a dance studio – just a variety of dance dvd’s is all I use! Try dancing at the start of your busy week to put a smile on your face and loosen everything up before you head out to conquer the world.
My favorite class to teach was kickboxing because it was empowering. In fact, it was the most popular class I taught for the exact same reason. Kickboxing has a way of making people feel strong and confident. The best part is, unless you want to seriously get into boxing (in which case you should sign up with a trainer to really push your butt) there’s no need to buy boxing gloves or a punching bag. Shadowboxing (punching the air at an imaginary opponent) is all you need and it’s all I use! Punching and kicking burns a tremendous amount of calories, but proper form is super important with this type of exercise. Where dancing is completely individual and there’s no right or wrong, kickboxing is the opposite: timing and position are the name of the game for safety reasons. But having a structured activity where you need to be very deliberate about each movement is good for you, too! A few punches and kicks, or a full blown kickboxing routine might do the trick to make you feel mentally tough without actually taking it out on the source of your stress! Try kickboxing at the end of the day, when you’re less likely to be stiff but more likely to be bugged by someone or something.
Yoga and Pilates are very different, and discussing their differences could take an entire article. For this article, let’s lump them both into the same category of a more relaxing, low impact form of activity. For this reason, it’s a great activity to add to your weekly routine for the purpose of mixing it up. Either exercise does wonders for your mind because there is so much focus on breathing and concentrating on your whole body. There’s also a lot of stretching and holding positions for a period of time, challenging your mind and body in a completely different way than any of the above activities. Many people like to join studios that specialize in yoga or Pilates, but you can buy a basic dvd that will go over the essential moves for a complete workout. Try yoga/Pilates at the start of the day to get off on the right foot, or at the end of the day to wind down.
So there you have it. Introducing the above mentioned activities into your weekly routine will bring enormous benefits to your life: a happy mind, sense of self, confidence, and body love. Since every day is different – we may be more emotional than usual one day or not feeling so great about our hips the next – mix it up as you see fit. Of course, adding in other forms of exercise is wonderful for your health as well. But walking, dancing, kickboxing, and yoga/Pilates offer a variety of benefits that, combined, will give you a healthy body, happy mind, and balanced life.