The Ups and Downs of Exercise

There is a body image issue on this campus.

Actually, strike that. I want to remove the generalization of "this campus", because there is a body image issue on every college campus in America. However, the BC data points certainly align; according to the 2018 Nutrition Needs assessment, 64% of respondents said that they exercise to burn calories, and 32% feel guilty if they take a day off to rest. Additionally, in the 2016 Student Health Survey, 50% of BC students indicated an intention of weight loss. According to the Park Nicollet Melrose Center, it is around age four that we begin to compare ourselves to others. Fast forward 14-18 years, when we are in college, making autonomous decisions about how much we eat or how much we exercise. There is no longer a parent nearby to guide us or make sure we are treating our body as well as possible, and simultaneously, we are surrounded by thousands of people to whose diets or exercise routines it is so easy to compare our own.

Do not misunderstand me, exercise can be a wonderful, fun, and fulfilling thing. It is Let's Talk Exercise month, after all, and OHP aims to encourage the best ways to get our bodies moving! But this is also the Real Talk Health blog, and the real talk about exercise is that there are good and bad ways to do it, there are pro and cons, there are ups and downs.

The downs of exercise are when you feel down about exercise. Often, exercise can feel like a chore. It feels like it is something we "should" do, to attain an ideal appearance or to subtract from however many calories we consumed that day. However, when you're exercising for these reasons, it is functioning as a form of self-punishment. You will inevitably be pushing your body further than you should, and will not appreciate how impressive and strong your body is. While exercise can be exhausting and sore, it is only painful when serving as a penalty. Overexercising, which is exercising despite illness, a busy schedule, or other reasons, can lead to injury, shirking other obligations, or missing out on time with friends and family.

The upside is that exercise does not have to consume you. Many suggest you should be moving for at least 30 minutes a day, 3-5 times a week; this means that hour-long daily workouts are not necessary for staying active or in shape. But, spending some time exercising does have many health benefits, including strengthening of the immune system, promoting psychological well-being and self-esteem, and reducing risks of chronic disease. However, for some, this is just not enough. If you truly just love being in the gym, focusing on building muscle and becoming stronger can be a really healthy approach to exercise. Having a tangible goal that focuses on more of you, rather than less of you, will ultimately feel more fulfilling, as each checkpoint brings joy rather than disappointment that often accompanies attempts at weight loss.

Think less about working out, and instead think of working up or working down. When you exercise, ask yourself: am I working up to being my best, healthiest self? Or am I working down through negative thoughts and pressured objectives? As with each of OHP's eight health areas, we cannot always have a positive mindset when it comes to exercise, but consciously checking ourselves and our subconscious insecurities can help reduce, and hopefully one day stop, the negativity. Exercise has the incredible power to make us strong; celebrate that.

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