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How Physical Activity Has Changed My Life & Improved My Mental Health

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Trigger warning: brief mentions of body image and eating disorders.

I never had a positive view of my body and can admit I have fallen victim to societal beauty standards and expectations. As a dancer, I was constantly judged, stared at, and compared to the other girls around me. Standing in front of a mirror in a small leotard while being told I had to suck in to make myself look flattering from all angles are things that stick with me today. Despite learning grace, discipline, and class, being a part of one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the U.S. negatively impacted the way I view myself.

Although this was a great part of my childhood, I am grateful for the strength I gathered to step away from ballet. It gave me the opportunity to explore other avenues to practice physical activity. In high school, I decided to try cross country and track and I absolutely loved it. As challenging as it was at first, it gave me community and structure. I was slowly on my journey transitioning out of my eating disorder and feeling confident in myself. Running became my safe space. Bad day? Went for a run. Anxious? Went for a long run. Good day? I ran! I was learning what it meant to exercise for the feeling rather than the shallow physical benefits. 

I was fortunate enough to be a team captain for both the cross-country and track teams during my senior year of high school. Not only was I responsible for my own health journey, but I had to lead by example for the team’s younger members. Having this opportunity helped me grow as a leader and a person before entering college. I wanted to maintain this level of fitness and how hard I worked to keep my mental and physical health in a good spot. I decided to join CHAARG when I came to UMass, a national health and wellness organization targeting the female demographic with the mission of making girls feel confident and powerful in the gym and in their workout routines. This completely changed my life. Not only did it expand my exercise horizon to so many different forms of movement, but CHAARG completely shifted how I view myself. The community taught me how to practice positive self-talk, and that it’s okay to skip a day at the gym without starving myself. 

I have realized that I can find a way to move my body to fit my mood and how I am feeling each day. I use high-intensity cardio when I am feeling my most anxious. It helps to get my heart rate up before it can settle again. Weightlifting is always helpful when I want to feel empowered. As intimidating as it can be, I have become an expert in not paying attention to others around me when I enter the weight room. Focusing on myself and my own routine has done wonders for my mental health. On the days I am just not feeling it, I like to walk and listen to a podcast. It helps ease the anxiety and keeps my mind working.

Exercise has become more than an activity for me, it is a lifestyle. I have learned how to calm myself down and feel confident in my abilities through body movement and positive self-affirmations. It is my happy place, and for that, I am grateful for all of the amazing things my body allows me to do. 

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Haley LaKind

U Mass Amherst '23

Haley LaKind is a junior Communication and Journalism double major on the Public Relations Track. She enjoys writing biweekly articles for Her Campus as well as running the chapter instagram page @hcumassamherst. Her hobbies include exercise, travel, journaling, and spending time with friends and family. At UMass she is also involved with UMass CHAARG and the Public Relations Club.