Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month. In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them. These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself.
If you would’ve told 14-year-old me that I would be running half-marathons by the time I was in my twenties, I’d laugh in your face. Or more accurately, cross my arms in a huff and roll my eyes. Though I ran hurdles and sprints on the track team, I HATED distance running and avoided cross country like the plague.
But something shifted in my early adult years. I was fresh out of college and struggling with depression. At a seminar I went to about depression and anxiety, one of the presenters named that exercise was a good way to boost his mood. I decided to give running another try. And this time around, with no pressure to be fast, I began to enjoy it. I looked forward to running. And let me tell you – it is one major factor that I can look back on and credit as changing my struggle with depression.
We all know the well-touted benefits of exercise. In fact, studies have shown that exercise can have comparable effects to antidepressant medication. But when Netflix is calling your name, or the 5am alarm for a morning workout is just too early, we don’t prioritize those health benefits we’ve heard about.
Here’s a list of different tips you can use to beat that magnetic force that holds you to the couch.
Start Small (But Significant!)
If you walk out of your door thinking, “I’m going to run 5 miles today” when you haven’t strapped on your running shoes for 6 months, you’ll probably get to about a mile before the weight of that decision hits you – hard.
If you haven’t worked out for several months, start with something small. It can be as simple as adding 20 sit-ups or 10 push-ups to your morning routine, walking around your block after dinner, or doing half of a Pilates video. Be proud of what you accomplish! You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to be fit and get healthy. When you start small, you can begin to slowly increase as you feel comfortable, and before you know it you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish.
Do Something You Love
If running makes you feel like you are dying, or if you dread going to your workout class, you’re not likely to follow through and actually exercise. Just because everyone you know is into running/yoga/weight training, that doesn’t mean that it’ll work for you.
If you like walking your dog, extend your walk for another 15 minutes and explore a park or neighborhood nearby that you haven’t gone to before. If you like dancing, have a dance party in your living room for 20 minutes with your favorite playlist. There are so many options out there for how to exercise that I believe there is one that each person can enjoy.
Focus on the First Step
Picture a typical morning where you think about going to the gym to complete a workout. Chances are, if you’re on the couch at home in your pajamas, you’re much more likely to stay at home. On the other hand, if you’re in the car on the way to the gym in your athletic clothes, you’re probably more likely to work out.
Use this fact to focus your energy on just that first step you need to take to make exercise happen. Instead thinking about how tired you’ll be during your workout, concentrate instead on changing your environment to motivate you to complete whatever exercise you want to be doing.
If you want to kill two birds with one stone, do your workout outside! Not only will you get the mood-boosting endorphins of a workout, but you’ll get the happy effects of vitamin D and some fresh air into your lungs. Studies have shown that exercising outside is associated with additional health benefits, and it also can provide motivation to return for another workout. Live somewhere where it’s overcast, rainy, or snowy? Try it anyway! Going for a run in bad weather makes me feel extra intense and committed, which is an automatic mood boost.
Work Out with a Friend
Find a friend who wants to get fit as well, and sign up for a class with them or make plans to work out together. When you work out with a friend, you’ve got the built-in accountability to keep you on your exercise schedule. And it always helps to have someone to go out to coffee with after a workout!
Invest in Yourself
Spending a little cash to take care of your physical health is worth it. Buy a fitness tracker and use it as a tool to compete with your friends and neighbors on how many steps you’ve achieved that day. Sign up for a gym membership or a workout class that you have to pay for – the financial investment may lead to a sense of emotional investment as well. Register for a race in advance, knowing that you’ll have to be trained in time or you will lose the (often quite pricey) race registration fee.
Use Free Resources Where Available
On the flip side, if money is something that holds you back from exercise, you have plenty of resources you can use to get started even without that gym membership! Check out free YouTube channels that offer yoga or workout videos. Check out a book about exercise or a workout DVD from your local library. In the past, I’ve even used the On Demand feature on my cable network to find kickboxing and other workout videos – they may be cheesy, but they get the job done!
What’s your next step to practice self-care through exercise?
At Restored Hope, I place a priority on self-care and treating your body and mind with kindness. If you’re struggling to find time or space to practice self-care, or if you find yourself in overwhelmed by struggles of depression or anxiety that make it difficult to be kind to yourself, I want to help you! Contact me at my Ann Arbor therapy office at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can help you.