‘Tis the season for holiday parties, cookie exchanges, and lots of overeating, and brainstorms about New Years’ Resolutions. If you are fighting yourself to get to the gym, on your yoga mat, or your SoulCycle/Zumba/weights class, here are some mantras that might improve your retention rate:
My body will feel less achey: It seems a little counter intuitive but sometimes the remedy for our achey body is to simply work out. Some of our aches and pains are actually due to lack of strength in one part of our bodies. For example, a lower back pain might be due to underdeveloped abdominal muscles, or tight hamstrings. An achey knee could be due to a overactive quad muscle that is compensating for another weak muscle. A hip pain could be due to a displaced disc or an unbalanced gait. Our urge might be to take some Ibprophen and “rest” on the couch, but actually what we should be doing is exercising and strengthening our bodies. I used to have this knee pain (thanks to dancing) and was convinced I’d need surgery on it. But, with a little bit of strengthening muscles that were underdeveloped and of focusing on proper alignment, my knee pain actually went away (until, of course, I went through that blow up obstacle course, but that was a different injury).
Working out can be a great headache cure; I’ve always suffered from headaches that can often be debilitating–my treatment options include napping, taking a bunch of medicine, or often times, I choose to take a trip to the gym. I’ve found that doing a few steps on the stair stepper gives immediate relief–perhaps because I’m moving around some of the blood in my head and loosening up my fascia.
In addition, many of us skip the gym because we work out one day, and then are “too sore” the next day to go again–but we must. Soreness comes from a build up of lactic acid, so when we stop moving, we allow that lactic acid to also stay stagnant; if we have a really hard workout one day, we most certainly must go the next day so that we can work out that lactic acid, and move out the soreness, and actually be more functional.
I will sleep better: The Chinese created the practice of Tai Chi because they noticed (many thousands of years ago), that their people were becoming more sedentary. With the invent of ‘better’ technology, they could hunt more efficiently and therefore, could spent more time sitting around (I wonder what these ancient men would say about our society). As humans have evolved, we have become more sedentary, until we’ve reached a point where perhaps the only motion I might take in a day is to change the channel or microwave some popcorn to eat. But our body stores energy, and this energy must be expended. Some people argue they can’t make it to the gym because their days are so busy and they can’t afford to miss out on another hour of sleep. But, I always notice that the days I do go to the gym, my slumber is much more efficient; I fall asleep quicker, deeper, need less hours, and wake up way more refreshed than I do if I don’t engage in some kind of workout. So even if that workout comes at 9 PM at night and lasts for 20 minutes, I still go–so that I can sleep better.
Go for the mental benefits: Studies have shown that working out not only improves your mood, your thoughts, your self-image, but also your cognitive functions (memory, processing speed, recognition, and other executive functions). I definitely have been in positions before where I have been writing a paper for grad school, struggling to pin down that one thesis statement or explain how a piece of evidence might relate, only to go to the gym, and the perfect wording pops into my head. I think our brains are very magical in the way in which they work–our brains do a lot of processing and solving that we aren’t even aware of, so giving our brains fresh oxygen, external stimulation during physical activity only enhances it’s amazing functions.
We need muscle mass to lift things (Christmas tree, that massive pot of mashed potatoes, someone else’s child, etc.): You never know when you will be in a situation in which your tire blows on the highway and you need your super-human strength to lift up the jack to replace the tire, need to draw upon your Olympic-endurance to outrun the moose that is chasing you down the mountain, or you slip on a piece of ice and save pulling your hamstring because you have been working on your flexibility and can do the splits, the dog runs in front of a car and you must utilize fast twitch muscle fibers to save, your phone falls down a crevice and you must be able to bend in positions to snag, etc. There are lots of spontaneous, unexpected situations in which you need to be strong, balanced, and/or flexible, so it’s always beneficial to have those things in your back pocket–just in case.
Going to the gym prevents bad habits: It is inevitable that I wake up every morning and crave Chick Fil A and/or Starbucks. If I attend an early morning gym session or yoga class, miraculously, by the time I end, I’m no longer craving the salty fries or the caffeine; I just spent however long detoxing my body that eating and drinking those things would contaminate it, and I’d rather eat an apple instead.
Maybe the bad habit is shopping. This happens to me too–whenever I am bored, I start thinking of all the stuff I want to buy. Not only am I not making any money, but I am also spending it on stuff that I do not need. But, if I am at the gym, then (a) I am utilizing the money I’m spending on the membership and (b) I’m not spending any additional money (unless, of course, I stop by the snacks or get roped into one of the 30 day training programs–but that requires another level of self control).
Or, perhaps the bad habit is something more internal–negative self talk. I hear this come out of our mouths all the time–“I’m so mad at myself for not working out”, “I wish I have enough self discipline to go to the gym”, “I’m disappointed that I didn’t go today”–and every time we skip the gym, miss the yoga class, delay the Zumba session, we say the same exact things. I can’t imagine how draining to our self image those thoughts can be if they go on 24/7. Even if my workout is short, the hardest part is always showing up, and I can begin to re-direct those negative self thoughts.
The Steam Room/Lemon Lavender Wash Cloths: And sometimes, the only motivating factor is to know there is a steam room, a cool lemon lavender wash cloth, or a nice stretch at the end. Whatever that sweet, sweet treat is at the end of your workout–go for that.
I’ve never regretted going to the gym, but often have regretted NOT going to the gym. Remember: the most challenging part is just showing up, so pick a mantra and repeat it to yourself–whatever it is going to take to get you to the gym, on your yoga mat, to your exercise class.