It's finally spring. Leaving the treadmill in the basement, I return to the countless pleasures of running outdoors. After meditating, the first thing I do in the morning is strap on my silver Asics and head out with the dog for a lap around Cedar Lake. The budding trees, the fresh air, the reflection of the sun on the water—I relish every luscious detail.
Afterward, the post-exercise glow lasts the whole day. Starting the day with exercise helps prime my body and spirit for a more relaxing, productive, and, yes, happier day. All the subjects in my book Full Heart Living incorporate exercise into their lives because, like me, they know it soothes their nerves and boosts their mood.
If exercise is so good for us, why do people hate it? On good days, many people see exercise as a chore to check off their to-do list. On bad days, exercise gets cancelled at the last minute—if it makes the to-do list at all.
What's going on here? Why the reluctance to exercise? Is this just a bad habit or something deeper?
I've found it's something deeper. And that something is often confusion between fitness and self-care.
Fitness connotes getting in shape for an end goal, such as riding your bike for five miles or looking good for a reunion.
Self-care has a less tangible end goal. It is about treating yourself with compassion, right here in this moment. What does that mean? Think about your best friend or favorite relative. You talk and text each other often and when that dear one comes to visit for a few days, you pay attention. You listen. You treat them to a tour around town. You prepare good nourishing meals. You make up a cozy guest bed. And you plan fun activities, like a show at the jazz bar, a swim in the lake, or a trip to the museum.
Self-care is simple: treat yourself as you would your best friend.
In my work as a life coach and psychologist, I see how easy it is for my clients to lose sight of self-care and become consumed in the busy-ness of daily life. They skip the gym, work late, and eat junk food.
Let's state a new intention: For the rest of this day, treat yourself as you would your very best friend. Write out your intention to do so. Jot down some fun activities to do.
Why not plan for a walk outside? Maybe go window-shopping at lunch or trek through the nearby park after work. Notice how taking a walk calms your nerves and energizes you at the same time. Imagine how you'd feel if you walked for 30 minutes every day.
Practicing self-care is a cornerstone of happiness. Here is what I have discovered: When my clients recognize the value of self-care, they find themselves doing some kind of physical activity every day, not to mention eating better.
Self-care is the magic key to making lasting lifestyle change. By itself, it is not sufficient to create happiness, but good self-care establishes the base from which happiness can flourish.
Think about it. Every one of the subjects I interviewed for Full Heart Living practices self-care. Every single one of the happiest people I know.
Self-Care Key Points:
• Eating well and getting enough rest and activity provide a foundation upon which happiness becomes possible
• Lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, and too much stress and recreational chemicals cause inflammation, which leads to fatigue, grogginess, moodiness, and even anxiety and depression
• Exercise often promotes immediate feelings of euphoria
• A great, natural stress reliever, moving the body can clear the mind
and be meditative
• Walking is a great way to calm nerves and boost mood
• How we treat our body and mind today results in how we feel and
what we can do tomorrow
About the author: Psychologist and life coach Tom Glaser, MS, lives in Minneapolis with his husband and son. He is the author of Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know. When he and his mini-labradoodle aren't lapping Cedar Lake or with clients, you'll find Rex napping and Tom hard at work on a second book, on resilience after trauma.