The value of testing oneself to achieve greater awareness and strength is found in nearly every religion, inspirational movie, and biography. We know that as humans, we grow the most when we are challenged.
This gets a bit muddy, though, when we talk about self-care. If challenge makes us stronger, does self-care make us weaker?
You might know in your head the logic behind the concept of ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’. Why, then, do we struggle with taking time for ourselves? Does it have something to do with this emphasis in our culture on challenges being good for us? What is the right balance between self-care and personal challenge?
Exercise is both of these wrapped into one. When you challenge your body, it gets stronger. Physical challenge also is shown to improve mental strength. Research shows the connection between youth sport participation and greater leadership skills. What sports do not do, however, is prepare you for using exercise as self-care. In fact, it makes it even more challenging.
Exercise is moving to take care of yourself. When exercise is done for the purpose of health and well-being it is, by definition, self-care. Even if you are exercising to be a better athlete, it is still ultimately done for you. The difference is how you treat your body.
In athletics, listening to and protecting your body can interfere with the goal. If you try to protect your body from harm while competing, the competition will eat you alive! The idea can arise, then, that self-care makes you weak. This mindset about exercise has infused our approach to exercise for health and well-being. Exercising for weight loss has become a sport. Getting enough steps is a competition. Our way of exercising to be ready for life, not just sports, is out of balance.
For well-being and health, the balance between challenge and self-care is essential. This is why it is so important to keep exercising for athletics separate from exercising for well-being.
There are many ways you can take care of yourself, but movement is essential for complete self-care. Movement is what your body is prepared for in a stress response. Movement gets your body back to to healing and repair mode. Now more than ever, we need to know how to exercise in a way that is stress-reducing, not stress-producing.
Challenge in exercising is essential for staying strong because your body is a use-it-to-keep-it system. However, it’s important to challenge yourself in a way that is not stress-producing. If you push too hard with exercise and it leaves you feeling worse, your brain will make excuses so you avoid exercising again. Yet, without the challenge, exercise is boring, and your brain will steer you towards other activities and avoid exercising again. Either way, you lose the health and well-being benefits of exercise because you are not doing it consistently. Exercising with just the right balance of challenge and self-care is not so easy, but it’s possible.
As we enter the season of giving and a time of year when many people struggle not only with getting enough exercise, but also with keeping up with self-care, I will be writing about how to make exercise a form of self-care. It will build on my last blog series about how to Exercise Right because when you know how to exercise right, you feel better and it becomes an act of self-care.
Bottom Line: Both self-care and challenge makes us stronger. Exercise, when it is specifically designed for health and well-being, provides both. However, you are the only one who can create the right balance for you between motivating challenge and moving for self-care. What do you need more of right now in your life—self-care or challenge? Try adjusting your mindset about exercise to give you just the right balance of self-care and challenge. Let me know what happens by emailing me at Janet@ExercisingWELL.com.
Is even the thought of exercise stress producing? Knowing how to use exercise to challenge your body at the just right level in a way that it feels like self care takes knowing how to exercise right. Exercising WELL™ blends mindfulness and movement to create mindset that help you find that right balance for you each time. Find out how to make exercise a source of self care with a unique, cost-effective blend of personal coaching and easy-to-use online learning. Click here to get started with a FREE coaching call.