Perspective: Exercise Fuels My Body and My Mind
I grew up with athletics always being a big part of my everyday life. As a kid, I tried just about every sport you can think of: swimming, soccer, basketball, dance, cross country and more–but swimming was my true passion. When I went off to college, I committed to swim Division 1 at Old Dominion University (ODU). College athletics was next level and more than anything I had ever done before. I trained hard in the pool and weight room for 20 hours a week and often traveled for competitions. On top of that, I had several part-time jobs while completing my degree, but I felt balanced. Looking back, I realize all of this was more than the equivalent of a full-time job.
In 2021, I graduated from ODU and started working at Burness. At first, a world free of scheduled practices sounded like a dream! Don’t get me wrong. I loved swimming, but I was convinced that I would love the freedom that came with “retirement.” No more jumping out of bed into a cold pool for 6 a.m. practices, no more grueling workouts and no more pressure to perform in meets.
I was wrong. Well … about most of it!
Transitioning from my busy, yet comfortable college routine to a full-time job was difficult at first. Although I loved my job and was learning new things and meeting so many new people, I was feeling stressed, anxious and even upset–but I couldn’t understand why. I realized that because I had no set time for exercise, I wasn’t exercising regularly. Even though this is the part I thought I would like the most, in reality, it was the most challenging adjustment.
Who knew that the freedom to choose when to work out would be so hard? It’s easy to put exercise on the back burner as a low-priority task when you have so many other things going on. After thinking, “I can just work out tomorrow,” too many times, I remembered back to college when I had a million things going on, but I still had time set aside to swim. The only thing that was different was not having a coach and set practice times. I realized that swimming not only helped me manage my busy college schedule, but it also helped me manage my anxiety and stress.
After my competitive athletic career ended, I started realizing that swimming wasn’t just something that fulfilled my competitive drive; the incredible exercise that came with it was something I needed for my mental health!
Growing up, I always heard, “exercise to keep your heart healthy,” “exercise to stay in shape,” and “play sports to be social.” While all of these are true and exercise is great for your physical health, I didn’t really understand how important it was for mental health, too.
I don’t think I’m alone.
Data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shows that 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year. Only about 24.2% of adults meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for exercise.
If exercise is a solution to improve mental health, imagine what could happen if everyone incorporated exercise into their daily routines. The American Heart Association has great information on how mental health can positively or negatively impact your physical health and ways you can manage stress.
In my personal experience with exercise, it has helped me:
- Decrease stress and anxiety
- Brainstorm creative ideas to solve problems
- Build time-management skills
- Build mental and physical determination and strength
- Build confidence
While I am not exercising 20 hours a week anymore, I’m beginning to learn how I can incorporate exercise into my daily routine. These are a few things that have worked so far:
- Spending 10 minutes in the morning stretching or working out
- Taking a walk outside at lunch
- Going to the gym after work
Exercise is fun once you find things you enjoy doing. We need to reframe exercise as fuel for the mind and body–something that you need every day like food and water–not something that can be pushed to the back burner.
We need to reframe exercise as fuel for the mind and body–something that you need every day like food and water–not something that can be pushed to the back burner.
If you are someone who dreads exercising, maybe you just haven’t found the right thing. Exercise doesn’t have to mean running or intense physical stress. Exercise can mean dancing, walking with friends, riding a bike and so much more–just getting up and moving!
Next time you’re feeling stressed or anxious, I encourage you to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, too. I bet you’ll find it’s worth it for so many reasons!
Burness will be hosting a company marathon to fundraise for Montgomery County’s division of the NAMI. We will collectively complete 26.2 miles for mental health to support NAMI’s work educating, supporting and advocating to improve the lives of people with mental illness and their loved ones. If you’d like to make a donation, you can visit our fundraising page!