It’s a joke in my family that whenever someone asks, “How are you?”, the answer is always “I’m fine.” When I was young and would call my grandparents, they were always fine, and so were we. When my Dad was sick, and even until the day before he passed, friends, family, and doctors asked him how he was and he always said, “I’m fine.” And even now, when I’m feeling stress and anxiety (and lately there’s been a lot of that for me), people ask, “How are you?” and my answer is always (and will continue to be) “I’m fine.”
And, most of the time, I am. Fine. It’s not denial or avoidance. It’s not being fake. It’s not that I’m not showing my true self. It’s not suppression of my emotions. Or lack of awareness. Or a defense mechanism. Or a way to not get close to people. It’s a choice.
My choice, my antidote to stress, anxiety, and whatever else life throws is exercise. There are countless studies that prove working out is effective in the treatment of stress, depression, anxiety, and even certain illnesses. It’s one of the best universal remedies around, and if you’re not making it part of your daily routine, you’re missing out. Research has also found that you don’t need to run marathons or take eight group fitness classes a week to reap these benefits. Even modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can choose to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel fine, or even great!
So, what makes exercising so great? Working out helps all the systems of the body (cardiovascular, nervous, respiratory, muscular) to interact properly so the body can manage stress in a way that is healthy. Go for a run or walk or take a group fitness class and observe the different systems your body has to engage: cardiovascular (if it’s a cardio-based class or run), muscular to get your body to move properly, and respiratory so your body can get the oxygen it needs. All systems communicate and work together. Add in a little family- or work-related stress after your workout, and you are much better equipped to handle the situation.
There are also other ways exercise helps to get rid of stress. Physical activity helps bump up the production of endorphins – the brain’s “feel good” neurotransmitters. Think about it: after working out, it is highly likely you’ll feel a lift in your spirits and energy.
For some, exercise becomes meditation in motion. (My reason for running!) The repetitive movement, the air, and the focus needed for longer distances all combine to get rid of the day’s tensions. Running provides space. It offers peace, calm, and clarity. And for me, that comes regardless of whether I’m running alone or with a friend. (Running also provides a chance to listen to new Les Mills releases and visualize choreography, but that’s a whole other discussion).
Working out also improves mood. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, lower symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety, and improve sleep.
It’s important to note (and remember), you don’t have to spend hours and hours at the gym or working out to experience any of these benefits. The main thing is to move. Let the endorphins kick in, find some peace and calm amidst the craziness of life, become more confident, and experience all the joys that come your way. And if you see me and ask, “How are you?”, know that for the most part, I am fine.