Some unexpected lessons on exercise

I have a body that was ideally designed for sitting on the couch. My legs are not all that long, my reflexes are subpar, my cardiovascular capacity is below average, and my muscles are equivalent to Steve Rogers’ prior to his Captain America transformation. Physical education classes at high school consistently resulted in my lowest grades. By Year 11 they had become more of an occasion to gossip with friends, rather than engage in ‘sport.’ So, it’s really by some sort of miracle that I stumbled upon an exercise regime that works for me – and yes, it actually does involve moving.

 

For me the key to starting to enjoy exercise was to completely change my attitude towards it. Sport and exercise have typically been something I was not naturally adept at, and thus typically avoided (subsequent to the fear of failure so often present in perfectionist medical students). My fear of failure had to be overcome. I started viewing the mere attempt to exercise as success. If I was aiming to run five kilometres but only made it to the corner of my block, then I congratulated myself on at least leaving the house in my activewear. My perspective on sport and exercise evolved. I realise now that the only prerequisite to exercise is to move your body – no actual skill or talent is required.

 

After coming to the revelation that yes, we can all in fact exercise, I have gained a few more insights into physical activity.

 

Firstly, exercise is integral to maintaining my mental wellbeing. While many had told me of the benefits of endorphins and the mythical ‘runner’s high,’ I started believing that they weren’t talking rubbish when I regularly started exercising myself. Or more accurately, I realised it when I stopped exercising regularly. An injury had halted my routine for a couple of weeks. Soon enough, my weekly running mileage was being made up for by anxious thoughts running through my head, rather than my feet striking the pavement. Furthermore, it was noted that I was more consistently in a bad mood. I felt wound up and on edge, with an excess of energy manifesting itself through unproductive emotions. As soon as I recommenced exercise this all went away. It was then I realised I needed to exercise to stay sane.

 

Furthermore, exercise provides the perfect opportunity to create a sense of achievement. Since starting medical school, I have found that I more often feel I am sinking under the course content, struggling to keep abreast with the fire hydrant that is medicine. Instead, I have started setting physical goals such as running a certain distance or going to the gym a certain number of days a week. When I achieve these goals, it gives me a meaningful sense of satisfaction that feeds into and nourishes the academic aspect of my life.

 

Finally, starting to exercise has helped me appreciate the importance of taking care of my body and my health. At times, I think we can take our health for granted. I, at least, didn’t realise the strength of the human body, and its incredible ability to adapt to new activities. This is what makes exercise and sport so enjoyable, and this is what can be easily taken away with sickness and ill health. So, beginning exercise has emphasised to me the importance of taking care of my body, to ensure that it can perform to the best of its ability.

 

I can’t pinpoint a reason why I decided to get my body off of the couch and force it to do physical activity, but I am incredibly glad I did. I have learnt about the strength of the human body, the link between physical and mental health, and how one can find a sense of achievement outside of their normal activities. So, while not everyone has the perfect athlete’s physique, I certainly cannot claim to, I believe the benefits and lessons one can learn from physical activity and sports are far deeper and richer than what we may imagine at first glance.

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