There are so many benefits of exercise. From getting fitter and helping control weight, to easing stress and lifting mood. I certainly began learning to run, hoping for the former and continued when I realised the latter. One of the unexpected benefits I discovered however was the ability that exercise has to empower.Time and time again I’m hearing from the women in my #ActiveWomen interview series how starting to exercise has been completely life changing. How the simple step of becoming active has had a knock-on effect to their lives and led to changes in lifestyle, mind-set and even career. I’ve certainly experienced this first-hand in my own life. I know a recent change in my direction in life really began when I laced up my trainers ten years ago. This got me thinking, what is it about exercise that gives it this power? How can it have such a dramatic effect on people?
Here are my personal musings on how exercise can empower …
It builds your confidence in yourself.
Doing something you never thought you could do is a quick way to gain, or regain, faith in your own abilities. It makes you feel good about yourself. You set yourself a target, challenged yourself and you succeeded; that feels wonderful. Pride in your own actions will propel you forwards in many different areas of your life too. When I look back to beginning to run and feeling out of breath before I got to the end of my (very short) road, I never thought I’d be able to run all the way round the 10k I’d set as my first target – trust me to aim high and not go for a 5k race first! I had three children under five. I was exhausted and unfit. I really doubted that it was possible, that ‘non-runner me’ could actually achieve it. But with hard work and consistency I did it and that made me feel great, my confidence soared and I wanted another challenge. It was an upward spiral. I was empowered.
You discover a new respect for your body.
As you become active and get fitter, you develop a new appreciation of what your body can do. My triple post-natal body felt like it had been pretty destroyed. I knew how amazing it was that it had been able to produce three children but I didn’t think there was much strength in it beyond that. Realising that your body has incredible capacity for endurance and strength, that it can run and jump, lift and lunge, helps you to view it differently, to respect it, to want to look after it, to nourish it. Suddenly the numbers on the scales become less important. You begin to appreciate your body for what it can do and not what it looks like. This is incredibly empowering.
It gives you control.
When you begin to fit exercise into your daily routine, you realise that life is much more under your control than you previously thought. Once you find a type of exercise you enjoy, you begin to prioritise it and to make time for it. My time management skills dramatically improved when I started regular exercise. I knew I needed that time, I wanted that time, I found that time. I went from feeling I had no time to feeling much more in control of my time which is liberating and empowering. It’s not only time that exercise can help you control though, you will discover that it helps you to learn to control your emotions and feelings. You can turn a bad day into a good day by getting a blast of exercise. Anger, anxiety, frustration, sadness, in fact every negative emotion can be erased, or at least diminished by exercise. Knowing that you can influence how you feel and how your day goes is very empowering.
It gives you a thirst for self-improvement.
We all need a little push sometimes to help us get more out of life. Taking a risk isn’t always easy. Being out of your comfort zone feels uncomfortable but it gets easier with practice. Understanding how you react to being just outside that zone, developing a way to keep calm and to tolerate it, embrace it even, is a very empowering skill to have. Whether you are just beginning to exercise or already exercising regularly but wanting to improve your performance, you will need to spend some time in discomfort. That may be feeling more out of breath than you usually would, keeping going when your body tells you to stop or turning up to a class you think you’ll feel out of place in. Sometimes you’ll fail, but that’s ok too, learning from our own experiences is vital. When you succeed however, you realise that stepping outside that zone – on your own terms – was worth it. Feeling uncomfortable led to improvement. That positive experience can then lead you to take risks in other areas of your life, to put yourself forward for things, to try new things and generally feel comfortable with a journey of self-improvement.
You can rediscover your dreams and joys.
I returned to adult ballet five years ago. I felt silly buying the ballet shoes but once I stood there and turned out my feet, tucked my bottom in and did an arabesque, I felt like my seven-year-old self. I lived for ballet for sixteen years and it was a huge part of my childhood, I adored it. I stopped when I went to university. Simply going back to what I used to love, reminded me of my childhood dreams and ambition. Rekindling lost passions is a brilliant way to get active and stay motivated but it’s more than that. For me, it sparked something in my brain that reminded me how I used to feel, before work, children and responsibilities of being an adult took over. It made me realise that deep down I haven’t changed and that pirouetting little girl is still inside. It is ok to still have dreams and ambition and more importantly to still want to chase them. That’s truly empowering.
It helps you build networks.
Succeeding at anything on your own is hard. Working with others, getting support from them and creating opportunities together is far more likely to work. Exercise may seem an unlikely place to find this resource but in fact it’s ideal. Through exercise you can mix with people from such diverse backgrounds that you would otherwise never have met. My involvement with 261 Fearless, the global women’s running network is an ideal example of this. I had lots of friends through my work and family life but through running and now working with 261 Fearless, I have met people that I just would never have crossed paths with. Their life experiences, jobs and backgrounds are so wildly different to my own. They have enriched my life in so many ways. We came together purely through a shared love of running. Having strong connections and friendships is incredibly empowering, you feel supported and safe, energised and enthused and you just never know what opportunities will come your way through the people you meet through exercise.
It makes you realise that anything is possible.
The combination of all the points above and the most empowering thing of all is that exercise helps you realise that anything is possible. With confidence, self-respect, networks, hard work, consistency and joy, you can do anything that you put your mind to. Exercise has so much to give us, to teach us and to reward us with. You can quite literally shape your future and change your life with the skills and tools it provides. That’s empowerment.
Featured image: Gratisography. Running: Horst von Bohlen. Ballet: Arushas Images. Jumping: drjulietmcgrattan.com