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23 Mar

A reason to exercise, that has nothing to do with looks

I used to be, quite firmly, anti-exercise. I was literally the nemesis of exercise. Sure, I knew in theory that it was supposed to make you feel better, look better, blah blah blah. But hating exercise became a part of my personality so deeply ingrained that it was almost a reflex to wince at the thought.

Obviously, I wouldn’t have turned down abs and a peachy bum, but to me, it just wasn’t worth the price. Literally and metaphorically. Not only did the idea of going to the gym make me physically nauseous, but, up until recently, I was a student. It’s not that I couldn’t afford to go to the gym, it was just never something that I wanted to spend what sparse money I had on.

Almost equally as obviously, four years of eating takeaways and drinking alcohol and not really moving my body very much took its toll on me. I was always petite and slim if not in good shape per se, and I found myself, at 23, looking into a mirror staring at a body I didn’t recognise.

And so, I joined the gym. Not out of choice but out of necessity. I’ll get myself back to where I was and then quit, maintaining my weight by eating healthily, I told myself.

Eight months later and I still don’t recognise my body. But in a completely different way. As someone who has never really been sporty or interested in sports, always opting to read a book than embarrass myself by even attempting to try out for any teams, I’m quite shocked at this new body of mine. Of course, I still have moments of insecurity, but overall, not only do I not hate my body, but I actually quite like it.

I don’t want to spend much time dwelling on that, though, as it is, by quite a stretch, not the best thing to have come out of this whole thing.

Let me tell you what is: the mental clarity.

Before you scoff at me and stop reading – which is exactly what I would have done up until less than a year ago – hear me out.

Since I can remember, I have struggled with anxiety. To varying degrees, but it has constantly been there. Speaking to strangers would make me feel sick. I wouldn’t ever pick up the phone or make a phone call, unless I had absolutely no alternative. It reached its peak about eight months ago (surprise, surprise). For about two months straight, I didn’t leave my house. Living alone in London with my family in Manchester, it was frightening easy to isolate myself. My anxiety, unsurprisingly, was part of the reason I didn’t want to go to the gym.

I didn’t join the gym to fix my anxiety. But guess what? Before I started to see even the tiniest of physical changes, my mental health was progressing leaps and bounds. I leave the house for fun. I don’t cancel social commitments at the last minute (I know). I go out on dates (I KNOW). I now call people because it’s easier than texting. For many of you, that’s a non-statement. For those of you with anxiety, you’ll know that’s pretty massive.

I’m not saying join the gym. I get that there are a multitude of constraints, including and far beyond my own. And I’m not here to tell you they are excuses. Sometimes, reasons are reasons. That’s okay. But go for a run, get sweaty in your living room. Try some yoga. Don’t force yourself to do anything you hate – find the exercise you enjoy, stick with it for a few weeks, and see if you notice some changes. What’s the worst that can happen?

Ellie Hyman

Manchester born and bred, after reading English Literature at Durham University, Ellie moved to London. Now, working in financial communications, Ellie also freelances; her specialisms are lifestyle, beauty, psychology. In her spare time, you'll probably find her with her nose in a book or upside down in various yoga positions.

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