Take Your Exercise!

As professional women, we tend to be in our heads a lot – analyzing, judging, sorting, drafting, calculating.  Lots of left side of the brain stuff.   It is quite easy to begin to neglect our bodies when we are so in our heads.    However, in doing so, we are really cheating ourselves.  It is obvious, but I think worth stating, that caring for our bodies is fundamental to sustainable excellent performance at work and in the rest of our lives.   I know, from personal experience and that of my clients, that the first things we need to establish in order to flourish are good solid habits of self care.  Yes, I know we won’t be perfect at this; that’s ok.  Let’s just try for “good enough” most of the time.  We need to create “good enough” habits so that we have that framework to go back to after a hard day or week or even month when we did not meet “good enough”.    In earlier posts,  I have looked at sleeping and breathing in terms of managing physical energy, but I have not covered food and exercise.  Now’s the time to look at exercise and next will be food.

Those who know me well are aware that I put a lot of emphasis on regular exercise.  This summer, in anticipation of this blog post, I read a fantastic book called Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John Ratey, MD.   Ratey explains what aerobic exercise actually does to our brain and why we can feel so good after exercising.*  Ratey validates how I have felt about exercise over the years – I view it as basically “medicinal” for me.  If I don’t get it, things spiral downward.  I feel half-alive.  Drab.  I don’t sleep as well, I am more irritable and unfocused, I am more tired and I reach for high sugar, high fat foods and caffeine to try to get the boost I crave.    When I do get regular exercise (and these days I am striving for at least a half hour a day, to walk my talk), I sleep better, am less tired, feel more positive more often and, while I still love my sweets, I actually seek out healthy food to eat.  I see the food as fuel to give me sustainable energy, not just a quick fix.

Ratey explores exercise’s effect on the challenges of stress, anxiety, depression, ADD, hormonal changes, aging and learning.  He shares and explains the results of many studies to make his points.   Since I work with professional women in stressful environments, I will share my take on what Ratey says about stress and exercise.    He says that exercise helps to inoculate us against stress.  Exercise helps us to recover from stress more quickly.    This is interesting, since exercise itself is a form of stress.   Exercise makes us more resilient.  Some stress is good, psychologically and biologically.    For example, challenges are what allow us to strive and grow and learn.   (As Daniel Pink talks about in Drive, mastery of a challenge or skill is one of three key components of intrinsic motivation.  I know this is a key point for professional women; we tend to seek out challenges.)  At the cellular level, stress sparks brain growth.  From p.61:

“Assuming that the stress is not too severe and that the neurons are given time to recover, the connections become stronger and our mental machinery works better.   Stress is not a matter of good and bad, it’s a matter of necessity. “

So the key is to exercise daily to build resiliency and our ability to recover from stress.   And also key is to allow time for recovery from stressful situations so the stress does not become chronic – we have got to turn off and put away our “iPhones” on a regular basis!

This is also worth quoting:

“The stress of exercise is predictable and controllable because you’re initiating the action, and those two variables are key to psychology.   With exercise, you gain a sense of mastery and self-confidence.   As you develop awareness of your own ability to manage stress and not rely on negative coping mechanisms, you increase your ability to “snap out of it”, so to speak.   You learn to trust that you can deal with it…” (p.79)
This speaks to me!  You?

One late August night a couple of weeks ago, I was not sleeping well.  I thought to myself “I didn’t get enough exercise today”.   Then I asked myself – “What is this about “getting”?  Was I expecting someone to hand it to me on a silver platter?”   Then I decided I should have said to myself: “I didn’t take enough exercise today”, or “I didn’t make room for enough exercise today.”   That rephrasing is more proactive; being proactive is one of my key values.   Why wouldn’t I be proactive about something that is so critically important to me, which when I do it, make me feel fully alive?   And also,  “taking exercise” fits with my feeling that it is medicinal.   Just like I am quick to take ibuprofen for a headache, why wouldn’t I be quick to take my exercise?  So reading Spark has inspired me to be even more proactive about taking my exercise and also about passing this wisdom on to my family, and to my clients, where appropriate.  It has also inspired me to shake my routine up a little and try new things, and that’s another blog post….

Exercise is critical for us in managing our physical energy.   Our bodies are designed to move!  To perform at our best and to be fully engaged, we need to build exercise into our lives every day.   Ratey gives some advice on how to begin.   Hiring a trainer for a few sessions is an excellent place to start, he says.   He also gives other advice too about how you can structure your workouts to greatest effect.  Ratey’s last words in the chapter on stress (p. 84):

“Just keep in mind that the more stress you have, the more your body needs to move to keep your brain running smoothly.”

Whatever exercise you choose to do, I invite you to schedule it in to your calendar like the important priority (big rock!) that it is.

What works for you? What doesn’t?  How could you make sure you move your body for at least 30 minutes a day, like the research suggests we need to be healthy in the long term?  (For more facts and inspiration, see this fantastic 9 minute video Twenty-three and a Half Hours – what’s the single best thing we can do for our health? by Dr. Mike Evans here in the Annex in Toronto.  It has had almost 3 million views to date!)

Check out my resources page for some of my recommendations.   And also let me know how you take your exercise in the comments below!

*  Ratey focuses on aerobic exercise in the book, since that what the studies focused on.  When I talk about my personal experience, I am referring to all types, especially running, yoga, pilates and weights.
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One Response to Take Your Exercise!
  1. Courtney Dalrymple
    April 2, 2014 | 6:38 pm

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