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Wellness

How Cycling Helped Me Find Joy in Exercise

Like almost every woman I know, I’ve always had a complicated relationship with movement and exercise. Until recently, I viewed movement only as something that women used to punish themselves and police their weight. I saw exercise as either an activity that meant letting diet culture control me, or a necessary evil that came with something I wanted: I had to do dance conditioning exercises if I wanted to perform in a show, or I needed to hike up a mountain to see the view from the top. Stepping outside of diet culture and the impulse to try to control my physical appearance was something that took up the better part of my late teenage years, and it’s by no means something I’m done working on. Exercise can be great for you, but there are also lots of valid reasons to intentionally not have an exercise regimen, and honestly, that had to be my lifestyle for a while. 

Over the years, I kept growing and working on body positivity and self-kindness, and I certainly passed the point where regular exercise would be a good idea for me again, but I never incorporated movement into my life. Why? Because exercise sucks. If you can get up and go on a jog at six in the morning, more power to you, but in my world, running is the worst, and lifting weights is so boring. But, even though I’m not enthused by most forms of exercise, I know how beneficial movement is to both physical and mental health, so I made myself a goal. In January of this year (you know, back when positive things were still going to happen in 2020) I made a resolution: to have one joyful experience this year with exercise or movement. 

Obviously, everything about my life has changed since I made that plan in January, and once mid-March hit, I gave up on most of my New Year’s Resolutions. I was trapped in my house and going crazy, not really doing anything besides getting minimal amounts of schoolwork done and tearing my way through Scandal. But, halfway through finals week in May, I randomly decided to go on a quick bike ride. I’m not totally sure why I did, maybe I was going insane from being cooped up, or maybe I was just desperate to achieve at least one thing I had set out to do this year, but I ended up becoming absolutely hooked on riding my bike. I haven’t gone more than three days without riding my bike since mid-May, and last month, when I moved across the country, I stuffed my bicycle into my car and brought it along with me. It’s something I never thought I would be passionate about, but, even though it sounds small, it’s changed my life. 

I like to say that my brain “runs fast”: I’m always trying to plan six steps ahead, and doing multiple things at once. If I’m listening to a podcast, I need to be scrolling through Pinterest, if I’m cooking, I need to be watching something on TV. So, when I’ve tried things like lifting weights, I’ve gotten bored counting reps and begun to fixate on how much I wanted to not be lifting weights, which is not particularly enjoyable. But, on my bike rides, I’m focused on steering, on picking out my route, and on whatever I choose to listen to while I’m riding. It sounds odd, but with all that low-impact stimulus, I’m able to actually focus on my thoughts and untangle the absolute roller coaster these last six months have been. I can’t say how all this movement has affected my mental health, because, with the pandemic and isolation, I wasn’t exactly coming from my baseline mental state in May, but whenever I come home from a bike ride, I feel clear-headed and organized. For an extrovert who doesn’t typically like to spend time alone with her own thoughts, this is a huge win. 

Riding my bike so often has also totally changed my relationship with nature. Maybe it’s just that getting out of the house, anywhere out of the house is a luxury right now, but I have more appreciation for the outside world than ever before. I’ve endlessly annoyed my friends on social media with pictures of the summer sunsets and fall foliage that I’ve seen, but it runs much deeper than that. The details of the natural world and the way that they survive in spite of human beings is a really comforting thing to focus my mental attention on. This little bit of consistency has really helped to calm the veritable storm of thoughts and emotions that come with existing during a global pandemic. Without these bike rides, I wouldn’t have taken the time to notice the way that beauty continues to appear, in a global moment that is very much less than beautiful.  

Having this time for movement has been absolutely vital for me these last few months. Finding joy in movement is something that, though seemingly small, is a hurdle that I am so excited to be clearing. In a time where all my other passion projects and aspirations have been deferred or lost completely, gaining something new in my life to love is really incredible. I’ve learned to better appreciate the little things, I’ve learned to spend healthy time inside of my own head, and, maybe most impactful of all, I have something in my life that is absolutely just for me. As a middle and high schooler, I always assumed that exercise was something that women did for others, to look better (or, at least more in line with beauty standards), but taking this half-hour every day for myself is so much bigger than that. It brings me a sense of achievement, a sense of routine, and a sense of having something that is all my own. In a year where everyone has lost so many things big and small, having something that I love, that no closing campus or ill-advised politician can take away from me is rare. I cherish those thirty minutes a day that, in spite of everything, are a reminder to find pockets of joy, and to keep moving forward, lest I lose momentum.

Katie Kress

Kenyon '22

Katie Kress is a junior English and Music double major from Canton, Michigan. In addition to being a Senior Editor for Her Campus, she is involved in choir, a cappella, theater, and Greek life at Kenyon.
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