Why We Exercise

Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Obviously, women's body image has been screwed up for a good long time now. When I was a pre-teen and teen, a lot of fuss was made about anorexia and bulimia. A mere decade later, the country's in a full fledged obesity epidemic. In true Goldilocks style, we went from too thin to too large in no time flat and all because our reasoning about body image seems to revolve around three basic axioms: Being skinny is better. Exercise is awful. Cupcakes are delicious.

No wonder we spend a lot of time frustrated and, dare I say, not so very happy.

Somewhere along the lines, we started viewing exercise as a necessary evil, something that's time consuming and painful. Something with no intrinsic value beyond possibly burning up the last "bad" thing we put in our mouth. We became obsessed not by how much better exercise can make us feel, but by how many calories we've burned. 

What the heck?

Even though weight loss is supposedly 90% eating and 10% exercise (I'm not sure the research is conclusive enough to prove this ratio, but I do believe our eating habits play the biggest role in our overall weight), we repeatedly turn to exercise as the sole means to weight loss, even though people can exercise their hearts out on a regular basis and not lose a pound, or may even gain a pound or two. (Oh hey, there muscle mass.) While exercise is a surefire way to tone your body and maintain your weight, you're going to have a hard time exercising out a shitty diet. When I was at my chunkiest, I was actually playing hockey 3-4 times a week. And let me tell you, no amount of killers ("Again!") could compete with my hitting up the ice cream freezer in the dorm dining room each night. (Oh hey, there freshman fifteen.) 

As I've started exercising more over the last few months,  I'm reminded of just how miraculous exercise is. Even if running is hardly my favorite exercise in the world (Apparently running one minute and walking 90 seconds is no big deal. But bumping up that ratio to two minutes running and one minute walking? Death. Death surely must be coming for me soon.) I find myself looking forward to my morning runs because I know I'll have more energy and focus the rest of the day. The endorphin boost I get from 30 minutes of exercise is fantastic enough that I'm willing to overlook the beached whale feeling I experience while running. And that's saying something.

If we want to feel happier and be a bit fitter, we need stop using exercise as a torture device. We should view exercise as a necessary challenge which serves up way more pay out then that ever tempting cupcake. We turn to sweets and alcohol because "we deserve it" after a hard day or a long stretch of "being good," but we rarely, if ever, apply that same reward concept to our exercising. Don't our bodies "deserve" exercise for being our always faithful sidekicks through this entire one wild and precious life?  Dare I suggest that exercise should be viewed as just as much of a luxury as a fatty treat, because what is exercise if not a sweaty celebration of what our bodies are capable of. 

Exercise to feel better: more energy, more concentration, more self confidence, and less stress. Exercise to be stronger. Exercise to make the answer to the question is, "Can I do it?" a resounding "Of course I can." Our body images will never improve if we insist on seeing exercise as a temporary means to punish our eating habits.

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