This year I have been fortunate to exercise with a local trainer who has taught me a new perspective that has not only improved my physical, but also my mental, emotional and spiritual strength. He has gone beyond the call of duty by trawling the Internet for new ways to adapt traditional exercises to suit my disability, as well as combining physical training with insight into my depression. Thanks Marco!
This post shares just a little bit of what he taught me this year.
You are stronger than you think
Research shows that a positive mental state, being happy, improves physical strength, and vice versa. In a study, researchers asked people to lift boxes. Before they lifted the boxes, the participants had to estimate how heavy the boxes were. Every single participant over-estimated the weight of the boxes, demonstrating how we make things seem far more difficult than they really are. The study also showed that the less socially empowered members of the group over-estimated the weight of the boxes by far more than those participants who held status in the group, i.e. those whose opinions were accepted and who took on a role of leadership. This demonstrates that a perceived lack of social power will affect the person’s assessment of their physical strength.
In a separate study, researchers asked a group of people in their 60s with depression to do strength training for a month. A control group did no training. After the month was up, it showed that those participants who did strength training were now in a healthier, more positive state of mind than those participants who did not, as a result of the endorphins released by exercise, the alertness that comes with being fit and the ability to engage with those around them. You are one unit, comprising body, mind, emotions and spirit. Each element affects the other and it is therefore important to respect each part of yourself and practise discipline in each area.
Mind and body cannot be separated
Professional athletes focus and prepare themselves mentally before exercise training or a match/race. It is especially obvious when you watch gymnasts at the Olympics – you can clearly see them composing themselves and controlling their breathing before running up to do their gymnastics. If you drop something and go into a panic, your breathing becomes erratic and your thoughts become jumbled. But just as those external circumstances can affect your internal state, the opposite is also true. By collecting your thoughts and deliberately slowing your breathing, you can calm your movement too.
When you exercise your muscles must work harder than usual, so your mind requires more discipline and determination to instruct your muscles to keep going. In this way, you are strengthening not only your body but also your mind. If your mind is always on something else when you exercise, however, you make it harder on yourself. If your physical labour is not aligned with your thoughts, eventually your mind will begin resisting exercise and making up excuses not to go to gym, because it does not have a positive experience of exercise.
When you realise how much is at stake for your mental and physical well-being every time you exercise, you will be more intentional about it and so you will perform better. Think of it as writing exams at school – when you get to the final exams at the end of the year, you know, “Okay, this is it, I have to study hard, because this is pass/fail.”
As I mentioned in a previous post, this year I truly challenged my body physically for the first time in my life and I learnt what it is capable of. There is a sense of empowerment and pride that comes with that knowledge.
*If you are looking for an amazing personal trainer or fitness coach in the Blouberg area, I highly recommend Marco Wentzel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.