Explain triathlon, or any endurance sport for that matter, to someone who isn’t familiar and they will probably say something like “you do that volunteerily?” Yes, conventional wisdom says pushing your body to its limits is kinda crazy. So why do we crazy people do it?
Probably the most obvious reason for anyone to keep in shape is to be healthy. A recent study found that just 75 minutes of moderate exercise per week can add two years to your life (PLoS Medicine as published in Men’s Health). See also countless studies that find that fit people are less likely to have health issues.
It’s a challenge
With anything in life, if you don’t challenge yourself, you’re likely to become bored, stagnant and depressed. Challenges & goals don’t need to be crazy. In fact, if they aren’t attainable, you’re less likely to achieve them and therefore could be discouraged to challenge yourself in the future. In a race, I take each person in front of me as a challenge—one at a time. I don’t worry about the competitor two spots ahead of me, just the one in front of me. I say to myself, your goal is to pass that one person. And when I do, then the goal changes to pass the next person. This kind of mentality is not only good for athletic competition, but in every day life as well. If you’re an intern, you’re not likely to become CEO and skip everything in between. I’m not saying that one shouldn’t have big goals, just that there needs to be smaller goals along the way. It makes the big goal seem more attainable.
For me, nothing relieves stress better than an intense workout. If I’m stressed at work, I don’t take it out on my co-workers, friends or family. I take it out at the gym, pool or on the road. It helps distract me from what I’m doing elsewhere and focus on something else for a while. I think part of the reason this works so well for me is that gym time is also off-the-grid time for me. I use to use my iPhone as my iPod but then I just ended up replying to emails and texts in between sets (so life was still with me). My non-connect iPod shuffle was one of the best pieces of gear I’ve purchased in a while (it’s also waterproof so I can swim with it!). It’s also nice to get outside and be with nature every once and a while. I love spending a few minutes just sitting on the beach after a run on a nice day. It’s time to reflect on the workout, what went well, what wasn’t so good and make a mental note for next time.
I feel that this “break from life” actually helps me to be better at my job and life in general. Once I go back to work, I feel refreshed and focused with a clean mental state—opposed to being over-worked, stressed and un-focused.
It’s a drug that makes you feel good
Along with stress relief, a good workout just makes you feel good. According to WebMD, “Endorphins … trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine.” They go on to say that “Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteme [and] improve sleep.”
Once exercise is a regular part of your life, it’s hard to stop. It’s addictive. A couple years ago I had a minor surgery that prevented me from working out in any capacity for about a week and at full capacity for over a month. That first week, especially, all I wanted to do was get off the couch and do something physical. I felt jittery and on edge. Just like withdraw from an illegal street drug—but this is a good drug!
Fit people generally walk a little taller with more “swagger,” as a recent article in Men’s Health points out (partially because they have a stronger core). Being comfortable in your body helps build confidence. Reduced stress and endorphins also contribute to higher confidence.
I’m not trying to say that everyone needs to be crazy like triathletes and marathon runners, but if you aren’t active now, try adding a little physical activity to your life.