Wednesday, March 1, 2023
By: Krystina Wales, Charm City Run Blog Contributor
Often when we think about goals around running or exercise, the focus is entirely on our body and the physicality of the movement. How can I lose weight? How can I tone or cut? Should I run or lift weights? What will give me the best results? But what doesn’t come up is how our mental and emotional health play into these decisions.
A person’s overall health is reliant on the status of five areas: exercise, food intake, sleep, relationships and ability to manage stress. It’s easy to focus on the first two because they are tangible and seem the most accessible to tackle. But lacking in any one of these categories can affect the rest.
The mental game we play with ourselves when trying to achieve exercise goals can sometimes be more exhausting than the exercise itself. But it is possible if we get out of our own way and stop thinking about the physical part of our health as separate or superior to the other parts.
There is no one solution to achieving perfect health, despite what social media and influencers will tell you. The reasons are physiological but are also dependent on your state of mind and needs on any given day.
Jenni Gritters is a freelance writer, business coach and mom. She is a certified yoga teacher but was also a competitive cheerleader and gymnast in high school so the variety of movement choices she has made over the years have ranged in intensity.
Today, movement in some capacity is central to her day for more reasons than just fitness.
“It is a key part of my mental health management,” Gritters said. “Primarily, of course, it makes me strong and contributes to my physical health, but the main benefit for me is supporting my mental health. Moving for at least 30 minutes really makes a huge difference.”
Gritters has had to focus on her mental health recently while also juggling the priorities of getting in some type of movement each day, running her business and managing two kids under three who are experiencing winter colds and sicknesses alongside the rest of the nation’s kids.
“Finding exercise that feels supportive to my body versus exhausting me more feels really important right now. There have been days when what I needed was to exercise really hard to basically process that anxiety that’s in my body,” Gritters said. “My new frame is seeing how I am doing that day, and always moving but adjusting the movement based on my needs for that day.”
Certified exercise physiologist and neuroscientist, Dianna Purvis Jaffin, PhD, PMP, supports Jenni’s approach. Her advice to those looking to up their fitness game is to make it sustainable and consider your goals but combine it with your reality. Finding the sweet spot between listening to your body but holding yourself accountable is the key to success.
“Our minds like to play tricks on us,” Jaffin said. “Listen to your body, but don’t listen to your naysayer. You need to find a way to move, but there are so many ways to move.
“If you come to me as an exercise physiologist and say, ‘Give me the perfect exercise prescription and the perfect dietary prescription’ and I tell you, ‘You need to lift five hours a week and drink nothing but kale smoothies’ and you hate kale and you hate lifting weights, my advice is no good to you.”
Jaffin suggests approaching your mindset around movement as one of self-love rather than self-sabotage, which means not letting yourself off the hook from movement, but not beating yourself up if you don’t get a run or a workout in one day.
“It’s important to remember that exercise is a stressor,” Jaffin said. “You have a hormonal response to exercise. It does elevate your adrenaline or epinephrine and cortisol and that is similar to a stress response. If you are tired because you aren’t getting enough sleep, doing too much exercise is going to be counterproductive.”
When moving in a way that feels out of alignment with her energy level for the day, Jenni feels these effects firsthand.
“I notice my posture, my alignment, is not great in the exercise, and I end up with neck pain and shoulder pain and I’m really tired in the afternoon. I don’t have as much energy to spend with my kids. Versus when I do something that’s in alignment, I think it’s energizing. I feel like I am taking care of my body. Some days, if I’m resting, that’s taking care of my body.”
Exercise is critical to good health, but it’s just one piece of a larger context we have to consider if we want to maintain that good health in the long term. Running is an excellent, accessible and community-oriented fitness choice for many, but don’t let perfect be the enemy of a good thing. Running goals are important and motivating, but in the day to day of achieving them, consider asking this question first: How do I feel today?