How would your life be different if you made a commitment to genuine gratitude? This month we’ll explore the mental, academic, physical, and spiritual benefits of cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
Do you give gratitude when you exercise? Or do you whine and complain each time you step on a treadmill? Find out the power of gratitude to improve your health.
My Love-Hate Relationship With Exercise
“You know, I don’t really like to exercise,” I told my students.
“You lie, Mrs. Ojeda,” one of the boys said. “If you don’t like it, why did you smoke me when we did rim-to-rim?”
“Ok,” I conceded, “let me change that sentence. I don’t like starting exercise.”
“You and me both,” one of the girls laughed. “But I still think you’re lying. I see you outside starting exercise all the time. If you don’t like it, why do you start?”
“Perhaps I need to change my sentence even more,” I said. “I used to weigh 190 pounds and I absolutely hated exercise.”
Clearly, my students didn’t believe me. “When Mr. Ojeda had cancer, I gained a lot of weight. It has taken me years to lose it again and get in shape. When I weighed 190 pounds, I didn’t feel like leaving the house, much less putting on exercise clothes and going outside to exercise.”
“That’s crazy, man, I can’t imagine you weighing that much,” the girl said.
“The point I want to make,” I told the class, “is simple. You can exercise even if you don’t like it. In fact, you can exercise even if you hate it. I pretty much hate all exercise for the first five minutes or so, and I finally figured out why.”
“I hate exercise the whole time,” one of the girls grumped. “How come you only hate it for the first five minutes?”
Hate it Until You Reach a New Equilibrium
“I rode my stationary bike this morning, and the iFit trainer, a physical therapist named Tommy Rivers Puzey started talking about why exercise feels so hard when you start out,” I told the kids.
“Evidently, our bodies like to stay in balance, or equilibrium.”
“Is that called homeostasis?” a girl asked. “We’ve been studying that in physics class.”
“You got it,” I told her. “So, when you start exercising, it’s like waking a sleeping bear. Your heart rate must change, your respiration rate changes, and you must poke and prod and force your body to change into a new state of dynamic equilibrium. Once everything starts moving, it stops feeling so awful.”When you start exercising, it's like waking a sleeping bear. But don't stop! #exercise #givegratitude Click To Tweet
“I don’t know,” one of the boys said, “I feel awful for more than a few minutes when Coach makes us run.”
“According to Puzey,” I said, “your blood vessels expand, and your lungs become more elastic. These changes help your body adapt to the exercise you’re doing. I hate the first five minutes, but I feel pretty good about myself by the time I finish.”
“What if you quit when you start to feel bad?” someone asked.
“Then you miss out on the opportunity to exercise, and your body will quickly return to its comfort zone of sitting on the couch.”
“Now you’re talkin’!” I heard someone mutter from the back corner of the classroom.
“In all honesty, the first year or two after I started exercising to lose all that weight, it felt like the change to a new state of homeostasis lasted forever. But I’ve turned exercising into a habit, and I feel awful if I don’t exercise every day.”
Getting Through the Transition
The bell rang and students filed out of the classroom, but the conversation stayed with me. How had I gotten through those first horrible minutes of exercise back when I started exercising? Why did I choose hiking, running, and mountain biking as go-to favorite forms of exercise? What makes outside exercise more pleasant than inside exercise—running and biking work the same muscles, whether I’m inside or outside.
Sports and I have always had an uneasy relationship. As a child, I rode my pony all over our small community in North Carolina. When we moved to Washington State, my ponies came with me, and I found new places to ride. I started running off and on when I took the Presidential Fitness Test my sophomore year and couldn’t even run a mile in 15 minutes.
A year later, I participated in our school’s track and field day (along with other area schools) and came in dead last in the 800-meter race. I had no idea I’d have to run around the track twice when I signed up for it.
I scraped by during two years of PE classes, but never learned anything useful. Breaking a finger playing basketball in eighth grade may have contributed to my distaste for sports. I continued to run off and on through college and purchased a road bike my senior year. The wind in my face felt good, and I loved the liberty of having a bicycle to explore the rolling countryside around Walla Walla.
While I love curling up with a good book, I equally love spending time outdoors doing physical things. For much of my life, I let the lure of the page prevent me from answering the call to go outside.
Give Gratitude, Not Attitude
Doing a Beachbody on Demand workout, running on the treadmill, and riding a stationary bike work—but I don’t enjoy those kids of workouts as much. It takes longer to change my state of equilibrium and start feeling good as I work out.
Now I realize the connection between the activities I love and getting through the first five minutes of exercise. When I venture outside, I tend to give gratitude.
My Instagram posts and Facebook posts confirm this fact. Stepping on the treadmill makes it hard to feel grateful. But stepping outside in a rainstorm or as the sky turns a radioactive pink during the sunrise always puts me in the mood to give gratitude.
And when I give gratitude instead of attitude, I find it easier to make it through the transition from not exercising to exercising a whole lot easier. Researchers have even discovered how pleasant distraction during exercise significantly improves our mood after we finish exercising. We can savor the feel-good mood long after we shower off and engage in other activities.
Without meaning to, I have formed a distraction habit for the beginnings of my outside workouts: I give gratitude. Instead of approaching my winter exercise routines (which happen mostly indoors) with an attitude of whining about the need to exercise inside, I will change my tune.
I’ll give gratitude. After all, I have the resources to purchase a treadmill and a stationary bicycle. I have space to keep them set up so I can’t avoid them. iFit and Beachbody on Demand have great trainers who can distract me through the transition from not exercising to exercising as hard as I can.
Gratitude and Health
After my ankle surgery in the spring, I can give gratitude for my return to health and the role exercise plays stabilizing my moods and keeping me balanced spiritually. While forming a habit of whining and resisting is easy, it’s just as easy to form a habit where we give gratitude. And when we do, we experience improved mood, brain growth, and the distraction needed to transition from rest to exercise.
Who knew gratitude could influence so many areas of our lives? Do you find yourself steeped in a habit of whining before you exercise? Make a list of things you could give gratitude for and tape it to the console of your treadmill or stationary bike. If you don’t have one of those, tape it to your bathroom mirror or stuff it in your workout shoes.
Let me know if you discover a change in your attitude towards exercise when you consistently give gratitude when you commence your exercise routine. Inquiring minds want to know!
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