Librarians love me. Having cultivated a lifelong belief that everyone knows how to run my life better than I do, one of my favorite activities is begging people more knowledgeable than I am to tell me what to do. Which is how the venerable MizFit found herself on the receiving end of an emotional e-mail asking her why it is so hard for me to take a rest from exercise. She, not wanting another life to run in addition to her own, returned my question with a question asking me “First, why do you exercise?”
It hadn’t even occurred to me to consider that I’d be doing it for any other reason than the obvious: to get healthy. Or that people might exercise for reasons different than mine. So then, list lover that I am, I set out to enumerate my reasons for exercising. I surprised myself. (Not unlike that time I drank a full bottle of water and then realized I was wearing tights, a leotard, bike shorts, a skirt AND suspenders. And my competition was in 5 minutes. If you’re really nice to me, one day I will post the pic.)
Why I Exercise
The short, brutally honest answer: Working out is the only time I truly feel good about myself.
Low self-esteem duly noted and need for continuing therapy acknowledged, I’m moving on to the more nuanced answer.
1. It makes me feel safer. After being sexually assaulted and the ensuing court case, I went on a mission to get stronger, tougher and look as least victim-like as is possible for a girl of my proportions. I think it works. After beefing up my bi’s with pull-ups and taking up kick boxing, instead of repeat nightmares of the assault now I have repeat fantasies of head strikes and throat crushing. And in a parking lot the other night, when a man jumped in the passenger side of my door my first instinct was to scream an obscenity and throw my book at him. (Note to all of my now-panicked family and friends: it was a total accident. There were two dark colored Honda Accords parked side by side and it was quite dark. I scared the little green apples out of him. And his wife – sitting in the almost identical car next to me – was laughing so hard she almost fell out of her car. There was much apologizing and no harm done on either side.)
2. It makes me feel saner. I am a girl of very intense emotions. (*gasp* No!) I have a lot of both anxiety and exuberance and I use my workouts as a way to temper them. Cheaper than therapy!
3. It makes me feel like a better mom. Mothering does not come naturally to me. I don’t know why. Many things in life that I wish I were really good at (hip hop dancing, rock climbing, bread baking, toe painting) do not come naturally to me. But one thing I can do is set a healthy example for my kids and show them how make eating right and exercising a priority. Hopefully I won’t go too far the other way and teach them how to be compulsive but that’s another worry for another day.
4. It makes me happy. I get a huge kick out of my experiments. I love to get really sweaty. I love the camaraderie of doing something really difficult with a bunch of other people and everyone coming out stronger for it. Plus, in the winter, I swear I get SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and exercise ameliorates mild depression.
5. My gym has free child care. If that isn’t reason enough to work out, I don’t know what is!
And of course mixed in to all that is a smidgen of post-anorexia “must work out to have permission to eat” nonsense. But thankfully those voices are getting quieter these days.
The Surprise Ending
I didn’t even notice, until MizFit pointed it out to me (not only is she a darned good personal trainer but she’s a stellar therapist as well), that everything on my list has to do with mental reasons. Not one item in my top five has to do with looking smokin’ in a bikini or even anything particularly physical (not that I would mind being a hot mama!). All of which might explain my proclivities for over exercising. After a certain point, if you are working out to look good you reach a point of diminishing returns. A less-is-more approach makes sense. You want to do the least amount of work to get the result you desire. But when you depend on exercise for psychological reasons then less-is-more only feels like crazy. The trick for me is to find other outlets that meet those needs that don’t wear my body down so much.
I’m thinking synchronized treadmill dancing. You think the gym buddies would be up for it?
You? So tell me, why do you work out? Do you work out mainly for physical reasons or for emotional/mental ones? Anyone else convinced that everyone else knows them better than they know themselves?