Learning to love exercise

With cold weather looming and assignments piling up, getting out to exercise can feel like a daunting task. Physical activity is a vital part of both mental and physical wellbeing, yet it can often have negative connotations. One problem is the common perception of exercise as a punishment, rather than a reward. This idea often stems from individuals’ issues with body image and lack of self-love that can become compounded in university with the concept of the “freshman 15” and the toxic culture surrounding food. Some people will need more concrete resources than just a change in mindset, but for many, inspiration or a shift in thinking is often all it takes to learn to love to exercise.

Working out should never be a punishment for eating too much or for looking a certain way. Instead, it should be a tool to destress and enjoy the power of the human body.

“Many women hate to work out because we’ve been taught to do it for the wrong reasons,” Michelle Segar, a behavioural psychologist at the University of Michigan, said in an interview with Elle.

While Segar focusses her research on women, this idea is important for any gender. Workouts should be about getting stronger mentally and physically, not about losing weight. Exercise can also be a great way to get outside and enjoy the fresh—or in Montreal, often freezing—air. 

While many students use their lack of time as an excuse for not exercising regularly, time management is often the real culprit. Every day, block out at least 30 minutes to engage in some physical activity. Since exercising increases productivity, after a workout, one can more efficiently accomplish tasks for school, making up for the time spent exercising. 

To fully enjoy working out, pick an activity that is fun and engaging. Physical activity is not only running or lifting weights. A workout could be as simple as a brisk walk with a friend. During this time when most students spend the day stuck in their apartments, getting out—when regulations allow—and going for a walk with a friend can be a great way to get steps in and simultaneously blow off some steam. For the days when leaving the apartment is not an option, dancing to music is a fun and easy way to get your heart rate up and improve your mood. As the weather turns colder, the possibilities for exercise do not have to dwindle, even in Montreal. Ice skating, cross-country skiing, and snow-shoeing are wonderful socially distant exercises to try. The McGill Outdoors Club is a convenient resource for rentals and opportunities for physical activity.

One of the best ways to improve cardiovascular health is running. Running can be painful at first, but it can also be fun. If possible, invest in a pair of proper running shoes to avoid leg injuries. The best approach to running is to start small; don’t expect to be Usain Bolt when starting out. Try running for five minutes, and if that feels easy, try 10 minutes and keep increasing your time running until it becomes difficult again. The key to running is consistency. Even if it is only 15 minutes per day, routinely running will make it easier and less painful. Another way to make the idea of running more palatable is to put together a playlist of inspiring, upbeat music and try running to the beat of your favourite tunes. 

On top of exercise, there are simple ways to lead a more active lifestyle. Instead of sleeping through that 8:30 a.m. Zoom class, try standing for its duration. When going to the grocery store, walk the whole way instead of taking public transport or driving. Use the stairs instead of the elevator when possible. Even cleaning your house or apartment can count as physical activity.

Forming a healthy and positive relationship with exercise can be difficult. However, by making an activity fun and taking pressure and expectations away, it can become something to look forward to. Working out for personal growth and happiness rather than to fit societal expectations is incredibly empowering. 

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