First off, I’ll admit to a bias here: I have been going to gyms for over 30 years’ now and I like working out there.
I’ll also admit that I have no connection (business or otherwise) to any gyms, so this isn’t a thinly-disgused PR piece for gym-going.
I’m writing this because going to a gym – and the exercise we do there – is really good for your mental health.
And yet…here are some of the most popular reasons I hear for not working out at a gym:
I’m too depressed
I have avoided working out for years
I’m too fat and out of shape to go
I don’t know how to use the equipment there
I feel intimidated by how good-looking everyone else is
If I go, other people will look at me and laugh at what lousy shape I’m in
I’m too old to get in shape now; I’ll hurt myself
I am a psychotherapist, not a personal trainer, and I find that regular, intense, cardio-boosting, endorphin-generating exercise is one of the best antidepressants available (and there are no side effects, except for sweaty workout clothes).
Psychological research backs me up on this: the mind-body connection is a hotly researched topic these days. Our mind and body are always communicating with each other, and the effects of this two-way communication are just beginning to be documented. For example, recent studies show that aerobic exercise and weight lifting are effective at decreasing depression, and there are no side effects (save a happier body)! Another study found that, for some people, three hours of exercise a week is comparable to taking anti-depressant medication. Research shows over-and-over again that regular exercise reduces depression and improves your mood.
Okay, there are some great reasons to go. Now, let’s look at your motivation, or lack of it. Ask yourself: Why am I going to a gym? Here are some reasons my clients like the gym:
Endorphins give you a “natural high”
Social (meet other people taking good care of themselves)
Admiration from others for a better body
Admiration from yourself for a better body/improved health
If you want to start exercising at a gym, how about getting some help with this? Like everything else in life, you can “do” the gym all alone, or you can get help and support, from people like:
Trainers. often you can get some free advice, but, remember, they make their living doing this stuff. Talk to a trainer to see if you can afford to get some help, especially at the beginning, when you want to learn the “right” way to do things, so you don’t injure yourself.
Friends: you probably know people who will support you in going, go with you, can give you suggestions on exercises to do, how to use equipment, etc. Having a gym buddy is a great way not to flake out on going. And it’s more fun.
Other gym-goers: you’d be surprised how kind and sweet some of the biggest, toughest-looking gym hunks are. Most people at my gym are very helpful. In fact, it is flattering to ask someone for help. It makes people feel good to give help and it is a joy to receive great, free advice. Be brave and speak up.
Once you try out a gym, here are some psychological suggestions to make it as pleasant as possible:
Stop comparing yourself to others; they may have a completely different body type than you, and they may be really strict about eating healthily.
Focus on yourself: whenever you feel jealous or someone else, remember how far YOU’VE progressed from where you used to be…THAT’S what counts.
Most people go to gyms to work out and focus on themselves, it’s very unlikely they’re paying much attention to you or anyone else.
Praise yourself for going, push yourself a little when you can, get help from others and concentrate on pleasing yourself. The admiration of others will come in its own sweet time. Enjoy getting healthy, feeling less depressed and looking good!