I will never enjoy working out. My cousin is a bodybuilder; he truly loves going to the gym every day and pushing himself to break weight records and lift more and more. My friend is a yoga instructor; she finds spirituality in flexibility and tells me that physical activity helps her regulate her emotions.
What about me? I’ve tried every single sport and/or physical activity on the planet (seriously–try me), and nothing has ever seemed to stick. All the experts say that if you want to get fit, you should find an activity you love, whether it’s hiking, pilates, or tennis. I have to alter this philosophy a bit to make it work for me, by asking myself which of these activities I least dislike.
This isn’t to say that I hate everything about working out.
There is a certain sense of accomplishment in knowing I have just finished a 4-mile run, or reached the end of a particularly grueling Jillian Michaels video. But for me, the satisfaction is more in the end product than the process itself, and the main reason I’m proud at the end of a workout is that I know I forced myself through a pursuit from which I derive no pleasure, but is good for me. Working out is like drinking cough syrup or clipping my toenails. I usually don’t enjoy the process, but I do these things because I have no real choice.
I’ve always been able to take my health for granted.
I am infinitely lucky to have grown up with a high metabolism and no major illnesses or deficiencies, so I have had to do little to maintain my overall well-being. Exercise was therefore never a priority for me. I was already healthy and fine, so by my logic, I found it more important to spend my time on reading, writing, and schoolwork that would help me improve in other facets of life.
It would be extremely easy for me to dismiss the importance of exercise altogether, as I did for most of my life, observing no immediately adverse effects. But after a blood test showed me this summer that my levels of “good” cholesterol, or HDL, were significantly low, I realized that eventually my own laziness would catch up with me. Luckily, having low HDL is easily fixable through increased physical activity, and the effects are almost immediate if one sustains exercise over a week or two. The downside to this is that HDL levels can also drop just as quickly. Regardless, I was lucky enough that a not-so-serious issue raised just enough of an alarm bell in my head that it broke my lull of complacency about my body.
Despite my progress, every time I lace up my running shoes, I still get a sinking feeling of dread in my stomach.
I wasn’t too concerned about my HDL levels going forward, but the incident made me realize that if I didn’t at least try to take better care of myself, I could put myself at risk for far worse issues down the line, including a higher risk of depression, a weakened immune system, and an increased likelihood of premature death.
In fact, in a 2012 series of studies published in the “Lancet” medical journal, researchers reported that one out of every 10 premature deaths around the planet are caused by not exercising. The studies conclude that a lack of exercise is essentially as “deadly” as smoking. If I could combat this problem by getting just 30-40 minutes of physical activity three days a week, there was no excuse not to do it.
I’m still no athlete, but I’ve definitely seen improvement.
I signed up for a physical education class this semester called “Training for a Half Marathon.” I was one of the only students in the class with zero running experience, and the instructor knew that there was no way in hell I’d be able to run thirteen miles within a few months, but I went from struggling through the mile to being able to comfortably run about four miles.
Despite my progress, every time I lace up my running shoes, I still get a sinking feeling of dread in my stomach. I doubt myself, I make excuses, and I suffer through the run. I never let these excuses get the best of me, because I know that by exercising, I am helping ensure everything I take for granted. You don’t have to buy into the conventional wisdom that one must love working out and be some sort of Instagram fitness guru to be in good shape. I don’t think my aversion to exercise will ever fully disappear, but one thing is for sure–I’m not about to quit doing it anytime soon. I love myself too much for that, and you should too.