Working Out is About More Than Just Weight

We’re all familiar with the never ending debate about whether or not to stop eating that container of salt and vinegar pringles and go to the gym instead, or maybe you prefer the original pringles, or maybe cookies are your thing; either way the decision can be a struggle and college gyms can be an intimidating place.  A lot of times,  I show up only to get a strange look from the guy standing next to the rack of weights, who has been lifting the equivalent of my body weight for the past hour.  The decision to go to the gym is not simply about weight loss and a bikini body, it’s about being healthy, both mentally and physically. The physical benefits of working out will in time certainly produce a better body, even though the motivation it takes to stick with it can sometimes be more difficult than struggling through a series of burpees, and it requires a lot more mental strength than a few minutes on a treadmill; but the mental health benefits can be far more impactful.  

Mental health and body image are hot topics, especially for female college students. We are always so motivated by what we see in the mirror, that we sometimes end up neglecting our own mental health in the quest for some idea we have of a better body. We, as a society have to re-train ourselves to focus more on the inside than the outside. Making sure we are happy, confident and at peace with who we are as individuals and women is such an important part of our overall health. It sets the tone for your outlook on everything and you can’t be completely happy if you don’t love who you already are.  Exercise is actually one of the best ways to boost your mental health, it’s a great way to clear your mind and press the restart button on a new day.  Just 30 minutes of exercise is worth its  “weight” in gold because not only will you feel great physically, but it’s a great stress reliever, confidence booster and there are proven scientific facts that it has a positive impact on your mental health, among many other benefits.

My first semester of freshman year, I was determined to workout every day, which I did... for a few weeks.  And then it was every other day, and then every few days, and then I got the dorm plague which of course crippled, me so I didn’t go to the gym at all.  By the middle of October I had stopped going to the gym altogether.  As a high school cross country and track athlete, I thought I was totally within my right to take a few weeks off.  I had run every day for the past four years, I deserved... and thought I needed a break. I had the time, I just wasn’t as motivated as I used to be and I couldn’t find a way to motivate myself, until I looked in the mirror one Sunday morning and didn’t recognize ME.  I knew I had gained a few pounds; the freshman fifteen is a real thing people, especially when barbeque is for breakfast Saturday mornings in Marion Square.  How could I feel this badly about myself? How could I not like what I was looking at? But it wasn’t just my appearance that was bothering me, I didn’t feel like myself on the inside either.

I set a weight loss goal for myself. When I returned home for Christmas break I was determined to hit the ground running (literally) working out every day and I did. But it turns out that weight loss goal became secondary to a much more important lesson, a reminder of what is really important. I felt so much better on the inside, my mind was clear, I felt happier, my mood improved, I actually had more energy and working out again every day became an amazing stress reliever.  I was working towards this weight loss goal with the intention of looking in that mirror and seeing my old body again, but along the way, I discovered that wasn’t as important as how my workouts were positively affecting my mental health. It became so much more than something I had to do, it was something I wanted to do. It is my stress reliever, my break from homework and studying, it’s my time with friends and sometimes just my time with myself.

Getting back to the gym may start out as a New Year’s Resolution or a jump start on bathing suit season, but whatever your motivation may be at the start, if you choose to keep at it,  you will find it has many more important and impactful benefits than just what you see in the mirror. Remember, what’s on inside is so much more important than the package it comes in...just like those pringles I love so much.