health

Why do you exercise?

Why do you do this?
Why do you do this?

 

By NATALIA HAWK

It was the year 2009. I was 18, and I spent the year exercising like a woman possessed by some kind of Michelle-Bridges-inspired demon. I was a self-confessed uni bum with a lot of spare time and spent most of it at Fitness First, smashing out hours on the treadmill and on the rowing machine. I watched more MTV music videos and wore more pairs of Skins than I care to admit. I used to do an hour of cardio, then an hour-long group fitness class, then another half hour on weights afterwards. Four or five times a week.

And for most of that year, I was absolutely miserable.

The reason I spent so much time at the gym was because I wanted to lose weight and – in my head – exercise was what you did when you wanted to lose weight. So I entered this world of neverending elliptical machines and running shoes, a world where everyone around me was telling me that the more I sweated and the harder I pushed myself, the faster the weight would shed, and I’d lose that magical extra five kilos and then I would love my thighs and wear bikinis EVERYWHERE just because I could.

And then I would be truly happy.

But I didn’t need to lose weight. And my body knew that better than I did – so it didn’t lose any.

Me in 2009. Delusional.
On holidays in Bali in 2009. Evidently delusional.
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Mind you – I got stronger, my legs got toned, I could finally do push-ups on my toes. But I didn’t care about any of that. I was a woman on a mission, and all I wanted was to be skinnier.

When I didn’t lose any weight, I didn’t know what to do. I learned to despise exercise because – even though I was so much fitter – my thighs were still bigger than those girls in the Victoria’s Secret ads. I still had a booty. I still had boobs. Why did I still have boobs? WEREN’T THEY MEANT TO BE GONE?

Fast forward four years. It’s 2013. I still exercise most days. Whether it’s running, Zumba, touch footy, a gym class or just walking to uni – I look forward to the moment in my day where I get to pull on my comfy shorts and do something active.

But I no longer care about weight loss. Because when I focus on the imperfections of my body, it makes me miserable and it makes me obsessive. It makes me lose sight of all the other reasons to keep active that are infinity times more important than weight loss.

And so I present to you – 9 reasons to exercise that have nothing to do with weight loss. That I like to focus on whenever I find myself pinching at the insides of my thighs and hating what’s there:

1) It makes you feel good. You will get fitter and stronger and generally healthier. Which will be incredibly beneficial if you ever need to, say, run a really long distance to get away from zombies, or climb a building to escape lions or something. (Oh and exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress and depression as well as making people generally happier. Endorphins, and all that.)

Why didn't I look like THIS?
Why didn’t I look like THIS?
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2) It’s damn fun. Exercise is not just running endless laps around a park. Exercise is doing the coastal walk with your best friend. Exercise is paddle-boarding in the harbour. Exercise is swimming in the ocean, dancing, netball, ultimate frisbee, bike-riding, sailing, paragliding, surfing, rollerblading, snowboarding. Etc etc etc.

3) You can do some really cool shit if you work hard enough. Like run a marathon. Or climb Mount Everest. Whatever floats your boat, people.

4) It gives you excellent bragging rights. “What did you do today? Watch 14 back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones? Oh, okay. I didn’t do much either. Just, you know… an eight hour bushwalk. But really, it was nothing.”

5) It can be YOUR TIME AND YOUR TIME ONLY. You can switch off, tune in to whatever fabulous music you have on your iPod and think about nothing except how much your thighs hurt after those bloody squats.

6) You get a great excuse to wear exercise gear which can be quite fabulous. I would honestly spend the rest of my life in Lululemon gear if I could a) afford it and b) actually get away with it.

7)  The thrill of winning. Ever played a team sport? Ever experienced the elation when you win a grand-final, or a semi-final, or – heck, if you’re not a very good team – any game at all? Yep. Damn good feeling.

8) It’s a good way to meet other people. I met one of my closest friends through touch footy. Also a good place to suss out potential significant others.

9) It makes you love yourself. Because you’re fitter, because you’re happier, because you’re putting effort in, because you’re proud of yourself, because you’re achieving things you never thought you could achieve before, because you can feel that ache in your muscles the next day that means you did a really good damn job.

Why do you exercise?

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