We all know this and are likely to have had direct experience of these benefits.
Why, then, can it still be so difficult to find the motivation to exercise?
It’s an issue that I’ve struggled with all my life, experiencing barriers associated with body image when I was younger. I knew swimming was good exercise but would only ever go to a swimming pool or wear a swimsuit on a beach if I’d starved myself to be thin enough to feel able to do that. And even then, I felt morbidly self-conscious about how I looked. It took a long time and a lot of working through masses amount of personal ‘stuff’ before I could stop worrying and start enjoying swimming. My partner and I even go wild swimming now, and it feels wonderful.
I tried jogging, but always found it so hard to build myself up to a regular routine. Lacking in willpower and discipline some people might say. Struggling with severe depression, anxiety and low self-esteem was the real reason. I’ve continued to struggle ever since, but have also never given up. Now 65, I’ve been doing on-line exercise classes, including yoga and pilates during lockdown. Last summer we did some cycling around our local lanes. We still both find that it’s an effort to go out, sometimes, but give each other a push and/or moral support when we need it. Whatever it takes.
What’s the alternative? An inactive old age with all the complications that brings?
I’ve always found it difficult to go to a gym or to exercise classes after work. Just getting through a day involved such a major effort for me. So I looked for ways to combine exercise into my daily routine. Cycling to work meant that I often turned up looking like a drowned rat, but it did help.
Even so, I continued to struggle with depression, and continued to find it hard to motivate myself to exercise enough to help it lift on anything more than a temporary basis. I felt like the only way I could sustain the ‘lift’ would be to train as if I was an Olympic athlete. I have neither the physique nor the talent to be anything remotely akin to athletic and, like most people, have had to commit a significant amount of my time to earning a living and keeping up with the usual day to day domestic activities.
There were times as well when I felt that the more I exercised, the deeper my depression went, after the initial ‘buzz’ fell away.
I continued to have to do a lot of work to try and shift it, with exercise being one of a number of tools and techniques that I’ve tried and tested over the years. It has been, and continues to be, a lifetime endeavour. I think that this is in part because of the way emotions are stored in the body, a matter which has been increasingly recognised and written about including the following article by Sean Grover (2018):
For years, I’ve made a study of where people tend to store their unwanted emotions. Certainly, not all body aches or illnesses are psychosomatic. However, as I studied people’s bodily reactions to stress, recurring patterns emerged.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Repression
Fear is the driving force behind repression, and is frequently rooted in your past. Repression is often necessary, particularly when you feel overwhelmed or experience trauma. But an overdependence on repression fuels psychosomatic symptoms and self-destructive patterns.
In his article in Psychology Today, Sean Grover goes on to identify the ‘Top 10 Tension Areas for Unwanted Feelings’ as:
1.Lower Back: Anger 2. Stomach & Intestines: Fear 3. Heart & Chest: Hurt 4. Headache: Loss of control 5. Neck/Shoulder Tension: Burdens 6. Fatigue: Resentments 7. Numbness: Trauma 8. Breathing Difficulties: Anxiety 9. Voice & Throat Problems: Oppression 10. Insomnia: Loss of self
I find this interesting and helpful, relating these areas to recent and past experiences.
I did a lot of work on repressed anger at one point, including going to a workshop where I was encouraged to take a lot of it out on a punch bag. The physicality of the release at the time was phenomenal (although I did go into a kind of ‘toxic shock’ afterwards, so I would not recommend anyone trying this approach without a very strong support network around them).
Some years later, experiencing stress at work, I searched out volunteering opportunities, finding an outlet by doing trail maintenance work where I could break big rocks into smaller rocks to make hardcore with a sledgehammer. I came back refreshed and invigorated. Although the effects did wear off after a while, I have so far – touch wood – not suffered from lower back problems.
Fatigue and resentments strike a chord with me – I’m so good at hanging on to them, no wonder I feel tired all the time!
So, while I’ve done a lot of work on myself to get to this point, and to feel largely positive about the position I’m in, there’s still a lot to do.
It’s often the enormity – or perceived enormity of the challenge – that puts us off dealing with it, which leads to repression, which leads to depression….
There are no easy answers or quick fix solutions, especially when difficulties are deep-rooted. I just keep reminding myself that it’s all about the next step. And the one after that. And the one after that. It does get easier. Miraculously – it feels to me – my steps feel a lot lighter, at the age I’m at now, than they did when I was young, all those years ago! Something must be working, somehow. Barriers can be overcome. It’s not easy, but it’s worth working at it, bit by bit.
However, even though he helped me to write the poem, I’m only crediting him with eating the pie, unless he wants to eat his words. Ha!
The perfect pie
The perfect pie is sensationally satisfying oozing with succulent gorgeous, gravy goodness as the nostril-caressing aroma emanating from its slab-like form stimulates the anticipation of marvellous meatiness turning into an explosion of flavour the savouring of which makes the world immediately a better place – perfection on a plate.
In one sense, this post should just be entitled ‘Being’, because age is irrelevant.
I interact with the world essentially as a being, and don’t need a label.
On the other hand, I do have history, and the ways that I have worked through that history impact on the way that I interact with the world – and other beings in it – on a daily basis.
It isn’t always easy to put the past behind us, especially when heavily loaded with emotions associated with trauma and grief.
Accepting things that I cannot change has been a hard life lesson to learn for me, helped by meditation, affirmations, and Buddhist teachings (including one in particular by Gen Togden of the Kadampa tradition).
Not having had children is a major regret. Raising this as an issue with a therapist recently, still needing to work it through, I was met with a profoundly uncompassionate response: “So you decided not to have them then, did you?”
At one level, she was right. I made choices – decisions – that led to me being in a state of extreme mental and emotional turmoil in my late 30s and 40s. Decisions that I made as a struggling, vulnerable young woman in my 20s were mine, and I was an adult. But should I really have had to pay such a high price in later life?
Shit does happen though, and doesn’t discriminate. Thankfully, I have had previous experiences with other counsellors/therapists who’ve approached my distress with humanity and empathy.
Even so, some things take a long time to work through. Some ‘stuff’ from the past has just come up that I thought I’d put behind me, or at least wanted to. It doesn’t always work like that though, and I’m sure my brain dredged it up now because I hadn’t properly dealt with it previously.
Now I’m in a much better place than I have ever been before, living with a kind, loving, supportive, funny partner. Being 65 is a starting point for me, and it’s never too late.
If I can send out a message to anyone who’s going through personal difficulties – whether recently experienced or long-term endured – it is to say: “Don’t give up.”
We don’t always know what we’re made of until our backs are to the wall, especially if we’ve oriented towards ‘flight’ rather than ‘fight’ in early years.
Fighting for survival is a primary motivator and there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Even if you can’t see it for yourself, let someone else – a friend – see it and hold it for you until you can.
I’m only 65, and I’ve got all my life ahead of me. So have you.
It may not be the most obvious thing to write about at this time of year, or even at any time of year.
However, it represents, for me, something of a New Year’s resolution, albeit one that I started with before this New Year; in fact before the last few New Years.
I started using soap instead of shower gel as a way of using less plastic. It’s a small contribution to a massive environmental problem, and I’m sure soap itself has negative impacts on the environment.
But I believe in small steps, building up to marathons and mountain climbs.
I make other buying decisions to reduce the impact of my waste on the world, such as buying unpackaged fruit and veg when I can, although I’m still horrified at the amount of ‘stuff’ that goes into our recycling bins.
I’ve spent hours – days even – cross-stitching over the last few months.
A lot of other people must have been cross-stitching too, as all the company websites I’ve bought kits from have had special messages up to say how they are coping with unprecedented demand due to the Covid crisis.
Even so, orders have arrived promptly, and been a joy to work with …
… helping me to gain a sense of being at peace with myself and the world:
There’s something so soothing about the technique of counted cross-stitch, that puts my mind at ease.
I’ve mostly made cards – and some Christmas decorations – to send to people – friends – and it’s lovely to think about these friends as I stitch away.
I’m not great on phone calls or Facebook, but stitching has become my thing. I’m going to try knitting again though, for a while. Knitting’s good too. And macramé: knotting!