Written by Jane Sandwood for I Promise Performance.
Stop Punishing Yourself: Exercise and Your Mental Health
“No pain, no gain.” The exercise world is full of martyrs and self-punishment. Whilst hard work does produce results, this attitude has gone too far and become toxic, with people wearing their exhaustion as badges of honour, as if you have to suffer to achieve your goals. This is counter-productive to the ultimate aim of happiness and a healthy, balanced life. Putting excess pressure on yourself can also lead to burnout and quitting exercise altogether. As a countermeasure, here are three tips to quit self-punishing and make exercise conducive to your mental health.
1. Exercise as a cure not a chore
A recent literature review from Nursing: Research and Reviews confirmed the consensus among researchers that exercise improves cognition and mental health and can even prevent future mental health problems. Despite this, many people with mental health conditions exercise less than the general population. This may well be due to this equation that exercise is something for fit, beautiful people and lack of confidence when you feel your body doesn’t measure up. The constant equating of exercise with physical appearance in Western society is inherently harmful. Repeat: instead of viewing exercise as a means to an end to an often unrealistic standard of ‘beauty’ why not view it as a form of self-care to help you feel good?
In addition, people with mental health conditions often feel overwhelmed with the to do lists of their daily lives and exercise can feel like one more chore to get through. Being gentle with yourself instead of self-punishing can help remove these psychological barriers. Don’t set your goals too high and beat yourself up when you fail to meet them.
If you have a mental health condition, why not try viewing exercise as you would medicine? A pill that will help you get well but with none of the negative side effects or stigma of antidepressants.
2. Exercise with a supportive friend
Working out with a friend is one of the best ways to stay on track with your exercise program. An understanding friend who supports your goals can really be a game changer. They hold you accountable, encourage you, give someone to confide in and, perhaps above all, make exercise more fun!
3. Do something you enjoy
Research from Sociological Theory shows that the best swimmers don’t find practice gruelling; they enjoy it. You are far, far more likely to stick with your workout if you choose something that you enjoy. The gym is great, particularly for working on specific fitness issues, but there is so much more out there. Why not consider yoga, martial arts, dancing or climbing? You may also find exercising outside more fun. Working out in the fresh air can improve your mood and boost your immune system. All the more reason to gather your friends or family and go for a hike or bike ride this weekend before the snow flies.
Exercise is a wonderful thing that is good for your body, your soul and can be a lot of fun. Resist the toxic tendency towards self-punishment, enjoy and reap the benefits.