After checking in, he walks along the wall studying the gym’s layout. Machines, cardio equipment, dumbbells, and weight racks. Doors line the exterior walls – basketball, racquet ball, a swimming pool and cycling. People are scattered about. His eyes return to the bench press and squat racks. He doesn’t really know what to do or where to begin, but he does know he’s there for a reason.
Stepping past the front desk, she already feels overwhelmed by the activity and huge variety of equipment. The gym is big and so is the crowd. As she wanders around, she realizes she has no idea what most of this stuff is. Working out is alien to her. Only vaguely remembering gym class, her concentration settles on two things: the cardio equipment and a sign saying “Evening Yoga.” She’s out of her element, but she’s committed.
The man’s reason for joining the gym is twofold. He has always dreamed of being in great physical shape instead of just the short, skinny guy. Having big arms, chiseled chest and washboard abs used to seem out of reach for him, only recently learning it’s actually possible for anyone. His second reason for joining runs much deeper. Faded scars and fresh scabs line the inside of his left arm. Back at home, he has three prescriptions waiting for him: two for depression, one for anxiety. Another that he abuses from time to time. He has an appointment with his therapist soon – the person who helped him realize it’s not too late to get in shape.
The man was also told that fitness can have a major positive impact on his mental health if he implements it regularly. It’s time to improve himself physically and mentally.
The woman has always worked hard, both at university and in her job. She knows she can stick to her commitment in the gym even though it’s going to be hard. A reflection looks back at her from the mirror on the gym’s wall; it’s the woman she’s about to say goodbye to. Her oversized clothes can’t hide the fat on her belly and around her waist anymore. Disgusting is how she would nicely describe the way she feels about herself. Barely any self-esteem left. Over the years the woman has realized that pressure from her parents and herself caused a negative relationship with food – particularly junk food and sweets.
From being bullied in high school to avoiding large gatherings in college, she was sick of it. Sick of hating her own image and thinking other people did too. Reluctance almost kept her out of the gym yet again, but walking around only solidified her resilience. Time to lose weight and change her life.
Fitness Isn't Just Physical
Maybe you’ve never struggled with those examples above but I bet you know somebody who has. Most of us fall short of our physical goals and how we wished we looked, but all of us face mental and emotional roadblocks. Stressed with a project at work, friction with your spouse or children, struggling with finances and looking for a better job. The list is endless. The point is understanding that our mental state is affected by everything in the physical world. Negativity, positivity, personal and impersonal.
A large number of individuals struggle with deeper mental health problems, such as depression, bipolar, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, etc. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness¹, one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, and one in six youth.
Fitness is a powerful tool for stress release and a mental reset. The release of endorphins, serotonin and other feel-good chemicals within your body lift your mood, improve your self-esteem, improve your thinking, promote better sleep and energy, and grow resilience. Exercise improves and increases blood flow throughout your body, but most importantly your brain. This improves your memory, clears brain fog, helps prevent disease and can improve the negative effects of aging.
As your routine gets fine-tuned and your weekly schedule includes physical activity, over time you will begin to notice improvements. Slow at first, but eventually becoming more and more noticeable. You’ll see physical changes such as fat loss, muscle definition or walking up a hill without being out of breath. Or, you’ll notice emotional and day-to-day changes like sleeping deeper, more energy throughout the day, and less stress-induced headaches. Whatever improvements there may be will add up over time and force your self-esteem and confidence to go up, often times subconsciously without you even noticing at first.
When you have higher levels of self-esteem and you grow more confident in yourself, your negative tendencies lessen. Bad choices become more recognizable. Unhealthy habits such as eating junk food, excessive alcohol consumption, watching too much TV and self-harm are front and center. You’re more aware of the impact they have on your life. You’ve taken the first few steps in overcoming these obstacles and you may need a little outside help, but your journey to evolve has begun.
You don’t have to be an extrovert to go to a public gym. In fact, with earbuds or headphones you don’t have to interact with anyone. Just getting into an environment where there’s a communal goal of improvement will set your mind on the same path and keep you motivated. Plus, you can study the exercises and movements that other people are performing to learn something new and implement yourself. Don’t overlook the chance to meet new people, though. The community aspect of fitness is valuable.
Regardless of whether you work out alone or with others, being a part of a positive community with similar goals will build self-esteem. When motivation increases, it fuels your dedication to your goals. Using fitness as a support system will keep you coming back. When you see and hear the success stories, you come attuned to create your own. A gym or running partner helps hold you accountable. An exercise class keeps you organized and involved.
The community doesn’t just stop at the gym doors or end when an exercise ends. Just about everyone uses social media, YouTube and podcasts. It’s safe to say that a fair amount of people still read or listen to books. Each platform connects us to information. Allow yourself to slowly become immersed in the online fitness culture. Follow fitness leaders, influencers, educators and people that inspire you. Comment and ask questions. Keep learning and if something sticks out to you, share it with someone else. Sure, there’s a lot of nonsense out there discussing which workout is better or why one thing is more popular than another. Take these with a grain of salt until your footing becomes more solid and you’ve learned all the basics. But, never stop learning.
We now know fitness is extremely beneficial to our health – physically, mentally and emotionally. It doesn’t matter your age or gender. Fitness doesn’t exclude anyone. Today is the best day to get started. Today is the best day for improvement. Go for a walk, a jog, a bike ride. Sign up for a gym membership and use it. Join the yoga or swimming class. Start once a week, try half a mile, do twenty minutes first. Today, my friend, your journey begins.
The man reflects on that first day he stepped inside the gym. A smile crosses his face, thanking himself and those who helped along the way. His first amateur physique show is in two weeks. The body once dreamed of ready to show off. New friends will be cheering him on. More importantly, his girlfriend will be in the crowd. Her inspiring story of weight loss and newfound self-esteem pushed him through some tough times.
He still attends therapy, but now because he wants to rather than has to. The man’s life has changed forever.
The woman nears tears thinking about the day she broke her comfort zone. That gym membership might have saved her life. Down eighty pounds and now a certified yoga instructor. Her first teaching job begins next week, evening yoga. A happy tear rolls down her cheek. She found the man of her dreams and hopes to marry him one day. Through his own physical and mental scars, he pushed her through struggle after struggle. She still enjoys sweets every now and then, but always in moderation. The woman’s life has changed forever.
¹ “Mental Health By the Numbers.” NAMI, nami.org/mhstats. Accessed 20 April 2021.
“I’m a short dude who enjoys many of life’s wonders – even with clinically diagnosed depression and anxiety. My journey has taken me through many ups and downs, learning all kinds of lessons along the way. I’m an advocate for mental health, fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Born and raised in a small town now living in the city. I’m also a dog dad, a gardener and an entrepreneur.”
Check out more of Treigh’s articles on his site, Lyfesculpt App.
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This blog is not a substitute for direct, personal, professional medical care and diagnosis. None of the following exercises should be done without clearance from your physician or health care provider first. If you choose to participate in these risks, you do so of your own free will and accord, knowingly and voluntarily assuming all risks associated with such dietary activities. It is to be made clear that Treigh Christensen, All Unrivaled and Maven Motive, LLC are not responsible for any injuries or health problems you may experience or even death as a result of using this blog.