Fitness shouldn't just be about aesthetics.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

It’s summer, and we’re well into ‘bikini body’ season. That means plenty of companies are clambering all over each other to try to get us to pay to work out or hit the gym or do whatever it takes to be skinny and svelte and, apparently, not feel embarrassed to chill in a swimsuit.  Bleh.

Encouragement to exercise is overwhelming focused on aesthetics and the pursuit of visual ‘progress’; anyone like myself who follows fitness influencers will no doubt see before and after photos on a daily basis. Images like these and the rhetoric that surrounds them and other campaigns to get fit place so much emphasis on achieving a nice-looking ‘result’ when, really, there are plenty of great benefits to exercising beyond changing our appearances.

Exercise doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym, ‘working hard’, running on treadmills or lifting weights. It can be anything from doing a little yoga sesh at home, going to a pilates class once in a while, deciding to cycle to work or just trying to walk a bit more often. It’s easy to feel intimidated by the time, effort and dedication that others put into working out, but it doesn’t have to be that way for you for in order for you to feel positive about it – we’re all unique, and we have to find what works for us.

So, what are some of my favourite non-aesthetic pros of working out?

It can be good for your mental health. If you’re lucky enough to have a good relationship with exercise, it can do wonders for your mental health. For me, working out is part of my self-care and is one of the only times when my anxiety switches off and my mind finally goes blank – all there is is me and whatever I’m doing at the time. Even just going out for a walk on your own to take in the sights and sounds around you can be therapeutic, uplifting and give you some time to get away from some of your daily struggles.

Of course, take this with a grain of salt, because contrary to what others might love to tell you, going for a walk isn’t going to cure your mental illness. Exercise can be a great addition to a healthy lifestyle for many people, but it won’t negate any mental health difficulties you might face.  Oh, and never feel like you need to try working out if you’ve struggled with things like disordered eating, over-exercising and so on before. You are never obligated to make yourself do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or at risk.

You get to wear cute workout clothes. Ok, maybe this is kind of an aesthetic point but, oh well.  I never used to be that into gym clothes, but honestly, I’m obsessed with sportswear now. Being really into the gym and going on such a regular basis, I now get to wear comfy, cute athletic-wear basically all the time and it’s great. Sorry uncomfortable jeans, I’m ditching you for some cute workout leggings that are functional and comfy as hell so I can go straight from lounging on the sofa to out and about around town to killin’ it at the gym! I am 100% on board with the athleisure trend and spend very little money on anything that isn’t sportswear these days.  Bliss.

It can be good for your physical health. Kind of a no brainer, but according to the NHS 150 minutes of moderate exercise (i.e. exercise that raises your heart rate, and makes you feel warmer and breathe quicker) is enough to dramatically reduce your risk of all kinds of different illnesses, from giving you a 20% lower risk of breast cancer to a 30% lower risk of dementia to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture. Assuming you’re physically able to, then doing small spurts of physical activity on a regular basis can contribute to living happily, healthily and independently into old age.

This won’t be the case for everyone (and, again, never force yourself if you’re injured, unwell or struggle mentally or emotionally with fitness) but taking up regular exercise has dramatically increased my energy levels. Although my body is obviously tired after weight training, I’m also positively buzzing and raring to go. The thought of going to work, then the gym, then out on the town used to seem utterly impossible to me in the past, but nowadays it’s something that I’m not only more than capable of, but actually do sometimes and feel amazing!

You can make or find great playlists. I don’t really listen to music in the gym anymore, but back when I did it was a great opportunity to find cool new music and curate my own badass playlists that got me motivated and excited to kick butt – all the more so when I rarely, if ever, listened to music any other time.  Some of my favourite songs and remixes I discovered through my old gym playlists I used to get off 8tracks (before it went to shit and stopped letting me stream through the app in the UK, R.I.P.). Since working out is a nice little slot of ‘you time’, it’s also the perfect opportunity to dedicate to listening to tunes you enjoy without worrying about anyone or anything else.

It can be fun. If you find something you enjoy, it can become something you look forward to each week instead of a punishment you dread every time it comes around. When I first started getting into fitness, I loved circuit training classes and the buzz of being in a group environment with all kinds of different people, and the positive atmosphere made it super enjoyable and kept me coming back for more. Things like swimming, team sports, dance classes, exercise classes, cross fit, hiking, dog walking and more are all vastly different and can be wonderful once you find the right one for you, and can be even more fun if you find a buddy to do them with and turn it into a social activity too.

Exercise may not feel enjoyable until you find something that actually suits you, but it takes time to figure out what gets you pumped. Fitness isn’t ‘one size fits all’, and it’s important to remember that you don’t have to love what everybody else loves. Just because fitness gurus or your friends are doing something, doesn’t mean you have to!

You can get stronger. A lot of us, sadly namely women, have the misconception that exercise = running or some form of cardio, but that doesn’t have to be the case at all. There are tons of different things that you can do instead of just hopping on a treadmill or cross trainer, and many of those things (like weight lifting or body weight exercises) make it really easy for you to feel how far you’re progressing in terms of strength. When I first started using dumbbells I could only do bicep curls with 2kg, but now I can do 7-8kg on a good day and I’m getting stronger all the time!  10 squats might be tough work for you the first time you do them, but within a few weeks it will seem like a piece of cake and the confidence and pride that can give you is pretty amazing.

It reminds us of what our bodies can be capable of. It’s easy to feel negative about our bodies when so much emphasis is put on how we ‘should’ look day in, day out. If you approach exercise with the right frame of mind though, it can become a great demonstration of how powerful you are and remind you of how magnificent your body and all bodies really are irrespective of how we look or what others think we should be. Whether you’re a competitive powerlifter, an average person who ran a new personal best or someone who struggles with chronic pain and simply managed to get up and out and about, all of those things – no matter how big or small – are physical and mental feats worth celebrating.

You don’t have to have a lean, muscular physique or a perfect peach booty to be a proud, powerful fitness badass. The images and accounts we tend to see when we peruse fitness communities online are only a small sub-section of people who actually exercise, and these communities are plagued with the same preferential treatment of thin, white, cis, able-bodied and conventionally attractive people that we get everywhere else. Strong, fit people who look like you exist, they just don’t get pushed to the forefront as often as they should be. ‘Strong’ and ‘fit’ don’t look the same on everyone.

You can learn to exercise for the simple joy of movement. Once you’ve picked out your cute clothes, found a good playlist and figured out what your favourite fitness activities are, you can learn to just enjoy exercise for the sake of enjoying it. Pure and simple movement, getting your heart rate up and doing fun, cool things with your body should be what fitness is all about; not grinding away, bored and frustrated, in pursuit of an aesthetic goal. At the end of the day, exercise should be loved as an activity in and of itself, not as a means to an end. If you don’t love it, then no matter what anyone else says, you don’t have to do it!

What are some of your favourite parts of working out?

3 comments

  1. Yes to this! I won't lie, I do love seeing changes in my body when I've been working out, but the main reason I do it is for my mental health - it's always better when I exercise regularly (although I hate the idea that going for a walk is a cure) xx

    Toasty

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay! I'm the same, it's great to see 'progress' when it comes to muscle building etc. but at the end of the day, whether my body changes or not the benefits exercising regularly has for my energy and my mind way outweigh the aesthetic changes!

      Delete
  2. I have been regular to the gym for quite some time; it’s good to see the benefits of regular workout. It’s a great motivation for me.

    ReplyDelete

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