Tag Archives: positive thinking

The Fitness of Helping Others

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.









At one point in my past, a person told me with great disdain, “You only want to help other people because it makes you feel good about yourself.”

Think about that for a second.

What, if anything, is so inherently wrong about feeling good about yourself?

Lots of people struggle with negative feelings about themselves, much of the time. Judging oneself harshly is a common issue – finding oneself lacking and being filled with self-loathing. Many people tend to be way crueler in their own self-assessments than they would in assessing anyone else.

Getting outside of yourself by assisting others in need can help you put negative feelings and judgments about yourself in perspective. You see that you can do good works and that you have something valuable to give.

And guess what – it’s actually okay to feel good about yourself when you do this!

There are proven health benefits you’ll get from serving others, as a 2013 study reported in BMC Public Health concluded, including the following:

  • Reduced incidence of depression
  • Improved sense of overall wellbeing
  • Lowered risk of death later in life

Note that these are not direct physical fitness benefits. However, I believe that we tend to separate the mind from the body too much in our culture. Mind and body are inextricably linked, and a healthy, happy mind obviously has an impact on your quality of life and your overall fitness.

Enough about all of this “selfishness” – the personal, individual benefits YOU get from giving. Now, take a moment to think about the people (or animals, or environment) whose lives you’ll touch and help improve from your willingness to donate whatever you have to give – time, money, skills, expertise, labor, whatever – and imagine how much they can potentially benefit from your generosity.

One caveat about giving to others: Make sure you are giving freely with no expectations of a specific outcome or of getting personal recognition or gains. You are giving simply to give, free and clear.

Also, it helps if the way you choose to give resonates with you personally. For example, if you hate working with children, volunteering to work with children probably shouldn’t be you service effort of choice.

Doing something that you actually enjoy or at least don’t mind doing will put you in a more giving frame of mind, and if you come into an activity with positive energy, those around you will more likely than not pick up on it. Ditto for negative energy.

By helping others, by volunteering, by giving back in whatever way works for you, both you and others benefit. Everyone wins, and everyone involved reaps rewards. What could possibly be wrong with that equation?

Volunteer for the health and fitness benefits you will gain. Feel good about yourself when you do.

Go ahead, be selfish.

The Fitness of Playing: Making Exercise (More) Fun May Be a Key to Keeping Yourself Doing It

Image Courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Too many people find it difficult to exercise often enough to stay fit and healthy. The reasons for this are complex, for sure. But I’ve come to believe that one big barrier to exercising regularly for many people is the fact that they simply haven’t found any physical activity that resonates with them enough to make it fun, or at least fun enough to want to continue.

We, as humans, love to have fun. Laughter and playfulness can help make physical activity fun and engaging, drawing a person to return to the activity in question again and again – not because they think they “should” in order to stay fit, but because they actually enjoy the activity and look forward to doing it…or look forward to how great they feel after doing it, as the case may be.

This is one of the lost concepts in fitness plans and programs and ideas for too many people, creating an obstacle to health and fitness. There’s a sense of exercising being a blah, icky, necessary evil that people have to endure if they don’t want to end up overweight or out of shape or both.

It’s true – exercise plans can indeed be boring and distasteful. Also true is that what one person loves and savors and find works wonders for them and lights their inner fire may draw an exactly opposite response from another person.

It’s so common for each of us as individuals to assume that everyone else wants what we want and thinks how we think and will experience what we experience in the same way with the same reaction. We also take comfort in numbers, so having others affirm that our choice is indeed the route to fun and enjoyment makes us feel happy and secure, and there’s nothing wrong with that – unless we find ourselves pressuring those who maybe don’t have the same response or reaction even harder to do what we do, making them feel bad or guilty that they’re not having the same enjoyable experience (which almost inevitably will push them even farther away from trying that particular form of exercise, or possibly any form of exercise).

One of the most important things for each person to work out for him or herself is to find a way to bring playfulness, joy and fun into his or her exercise plan or program. I’m not saying that this will be easy; it can take time to find a physical activity that is actually enjoyable. If a person is really out of shape, almost any activity may be uncomfortable, but still – figuring out a way to make it fun and to involve some laughter and lightheartedness can help make it seem less repugnant.

How do you make exercise fun? Try the following approaches:

  • When kids play, they don’t necessarily have to have a “point” to the play – nor do they have to have a time limit that makes it valid and worthwhile. Remember that 5 minutes of walking is better than doing nothing at all – or a few cat-cows, or pushups, or crunches, etc. It all adds up. Make it a game to see how many small chunks of time you can exercise throughout the day, if that helps you get more movement in;
  • Keep it lighthearted and don’t take it too seriously – if you don’t reach your goal for a particular workout on a particular day (in terms of time, distance, length, weight lifted, skill learned/mastered, etc.), let it go, and just be happy and pleased that you made the time for yourself to play at all;
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new, to look uncoordinated and silly doing it, and to laugh when you don’t – or do – succeed. When I teach yoga, it fills me with joy when students get caught up in the moment of trying a challenging pose or sequence, whether they giggle at not quite getting it or beam with joy when they finally do get it. This is exactly what I’m talking about – forgetting all of the “stuff” that awaits outside of the yoga practice, and just being present and playful in the moment;
  • Exercise with others, and make it an enjoyable social occasion as well as a chance to improve your fitness. You can have an exercise buddy (or two or three) with whom you meet up to exercise a few times a week; you can work out at a gym or sign up for a class; you can join a dance or yoga or martial arts class; you can get involved in an outdoor activity that is inherently social (rock climbing and bouldering certainly are!); whatever you choose, having other people involved can help add an element of fun and joy, even if you’re working your body hard;
  • Add some music that makes you happy, lively, and focused – music makes us move and can add pep and vigor, helping you kickstart and potentially prolong your efforts at moving;
  • Don’t give up right away if you can’t find something that you enjoy; take your time and try lots of exercises and approaches – perhaps you’ll cycle through a whole variety of different activities in search of something that motivates and inspires you, and perhaps something that doesn’t light your fire at first will gradually come to be something you feel you can’t live without. Whatever the case, don’t give up – and again, remember that doing something active, even for 5 minutes at a time, is better than no exercise at all.

Turning physical activity into something that you look forward to, that isn’t a tummy-turning chore that you must endure, can help make for a much more healthy and happy relationship with exercise and fitness. You may find yourself actually looking forward to your workouts instead of finding excuses as to why you’re too busy or too tired after work to make it happen.

For more tips on how to incorporate exercise into your life as a mainstay, check out How to Kick Start Your Workouts & Recommit to Fitness and The Long & The Short of It: How Little Time You Really Need to Make Improved Fitness Your Reality.

Why Fitness Resolutions Are So Hard to Keep – And What You Can Do To Change This

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net









“Whenever we make resolutions, it seems we are tested. Temptations, distractions, and old habits spring up from every side. We need to find the inner strength to persevere and to discover ways to succeed.” (from Inside The Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, by Jaganath Carrera)

If you’re struggling already with your New Year’s resolution – less than a month after your intention was set – you are probably not alone. As the above quote illustrates beautifully, keeping our resolutions once they’ve been made challenges almost everyone who happens to be human. We also see this relatively universal experience reflected in the well-known saying “old habits die hard.”

Why is this? What is it about ourselves that makes it so easy to slide back into familiar routines that we perhaps desperately wish to change? The comfort of routine, yes, but why do so many of us persist with comfortable routines that make us routinely uncomfortable in our physical bodies, due to overeating, making poor food choices, neglecting to exercise or get enough sleep – all stressors that can contribute to poor health and suboptimal functioning on all levels of being?

The answer isn’t a simple one, but I firmly believe that we have a deep-seeded natural (genetic/evolutionary) tendency in our bodies that drives us to attempt to maintain our current state of being once our body has learned to operate and function in this state, even if it causes long-term damage and dysfunction and/or shortens our lifespans. In other words, once we’ve established a set point of “normal” functioning for our body in a certain set of circumstances, our body strives to maintain that set point and will actually work against our efforts to change that set point – particularly if we attempt to cause this upheaval on a large scale all of a sudden, which is exactly how many New Year’s resolution fitness/diet programs are undertaken. (Read more about the set point theory here: Weight gain and weight loss difficulties: the Set-Point Theory (part 2)).

This knowledge can seem daunting and discouraging, but actually, I believe it shines a ray of light and hope onto the topic of resolutions, as follows: To make and then successfully keep a fitness resolution, you should work to make small, step-by-step resolutions that involve minor adjustments to your current lifestyle rather than dramatic, drastic overhauls that disrupt your body’s conditioned way of functioning. Make the changes small enough that they will go virtually unnoticed, and make them easy enough so that you can and do succeed. Maybe you eat one more serving of fresh vegetables or fruit a day, switch to whole grain bread for every other meal, cut out sugary soft drinks or do a half-and-half mixture of tonic water and 100% fruit juice in place of sugary soft drinks. Perhaps you add in five minutes of stretching or walking or lifting weights three days a week, and after six weeks, you move this up to six or seven minutes. Maybe you get to bed 10 minutes earlier. All of these are very, very small changes – but they are a start, and if you can maintain them, they are worth so much more than dramatic changes that fall by the wayside after a few short days or weeks.

Once you’ve succeeded for a minimum of six weeks (longer if you want to really ingrain the habit), you can tackle the next change(s) on your list. Or you can try to adopt a small change in several different areas related to your fitness at the same time – but I suggest no more than three at a time. Keep a journal (on your cell phone might be easiest) to keep track of how you do in reaching your goals, and adjust them as needed. The goal is for you to succeed – keep reminding yourself of this – not to set yourself up for failure. Make sure the goals for each six week to three-month period are entirely attainable, and let yourself feel good about reaching them, no matter how small and insignificant they may seem to others (or your unhelpful internal self-judge, who expects you to be swimsuit-ready in three days and also able to run a marathon in the same amount of time).

After several years of making changes this way, you might be surprised to discover real changes in yourself and your fitness/energy levels that you never thought were possible. Another big reason that fitness resolutions and programs fail is because people expect impossibly dramatic results way too quickly. If you can change your mindset to embrace the idea that you’re working toward a permanent lifestyle improvement, not a temporary fix, and that the changes will be gradual, you will be on the way to succeeding via the understanding that the physically visible changes are likely to happen extremely slowly, but that the underlying fitness benefits of improved healthy habits will reap great rewards in terms of your overall health and wellbeing much more quickly…and that physical changes will follow, albeit much more slowly than you might wish them to occur.

Looking back at your New Year’s resolutions now, decide on some realistic, easily accomplished steps you can take during the next six weeks (or longer) to work toward those resolutions. Working to gradually reshape your body’s “fitness set point” will take some time, but if you can stick with it and continually update and expand upon your small, reasonable resolutions, you may be looking back five years from now amazed at how far you’ve come in terms of fitness, rather than discouraged and dismayed by your inability to make a fitness resolution and stick with it.