Fit in to Fitness

I’ve been in some sort of sport for as long as I can remember. When I was little, it was tennis, soccer, and softball. As I got older, basketball and volleyball were added to the mix. I’ve also been doing all forms of dance my entire life – from ballet and tap at the age of five to hip hop and musical theater at the age of twenty-one with plenty of jazz and swing dancing in between. Being active has always been a huge part of my life and I’m planning on keeping it that way. On top of sports, I started working out and getting into fitness in my junior year of high school. I originally started to try to help my mental health but soon found out that I enjoyed working out just for the fun of it as well!I started with home workouts and gradually built until I was lifting almost every day my freshman year of college.

My fitness was at an all time high when COVID-19 started. I had to move back home and suddenly, I went from having 24/7 access to a full gym to competing with my family for the few free weights we had in the basement. I wish I could say that being home got me even more motivated and that I kept up with working out and dancing. That was not the case. 

I fell off my workout schedule very quickly, causing me to lose a lot of my progress. I lost most of my strength, flexibility, and even some mobility from weight gain. The worst part of it all, though, was that my mental health took a serious hit. While lockdown was enough to raise my anxiety on its own, the lack of activity that I suddenly experienced only made it worse. It became even easier to fall into a depressive episode. 

It’s no surprise that failing to be active had a negative impact on my mental health. According to an article written by BetterHealth, exercise can improve energy levels, feelings of control and self esteem, sleep, and distract from negative thoughts. It also helps the brain produce chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins, which can boost mood. In my experience, exercise helps me feel accomplished, confident, and clears my head so I can focus better. Activity has several mental health benefits and, for me, approaching it from that perspective allows me to remove it from negative thoughts about my body. By focusing on the way exercise shifts my brain chemistry, I find it easier to avoid dangerous mindsets around my health. 

For all that fitness does for peoples’ health, the fitness industry itself does not always promote the ideal standard of living. The fitness industry often promotes an unobtainable body standard, pushing people into an unhealthy mindset. On one hand, big fitness brands rarely show people outside of the ideal body type wearing their workout gear. This sends a message that only a certain type of person is “fit” or “healthy,” and causes people to perceive those without that body type as “unhealthy.” In an example in an article by Rejuvage, Gymshark posted a picture of someone outside this unobtainable standard in their gear, prompting many people to criticize them for promoting an “unhealthy lifestyle”. Another byproduct of the fitness industry, is the unhealthy example some fitness influencers set for the general public. Many fitness influencers are praised for having a very slim, muscly figure – few people stop to think about whether or not that figure is obtained by healthy means. Between this, the countless products meant to help people slim down as fast as possible, and diets that restrict calories to obscenely low amounts, the health and fitness industry has become somewhat dangerous to people who are just starting on their fitness journey. It can also be damaging to the self esteem of industry veterans, even though they know that certain standards may be unobtainable. 

Over the past year, I have slowly started to become active again. Dancing in person again with my team has helped a lot. It has allowed me to ease back into activity in a way that I enjoy and with people I enjoy being around. I have also taken time to assess my mental health this past year, which has allowed me to listen to my body and what it needs. I am learning how to work around my own mental barriers by focusing on moving how and when I want to. On days where I have more energy, I can get up and go to the gym. However, on days where I am struggling to get out of bed, I focus on low energy activities like going on a walk. No matter how I feel, I make sure to give myself space, time, and forgiveness for how I’m feeling and what I’m able to accomplish. Fitness isn’t just about how much activity you do but how you treat yourself while you’re working out.

Takeaway: Fitness is important but taking care of yourself in the best way you can is a bigger priority.

One of my favorite snacks after a hard workout is a smoothie. Use this coupon to save 20% off at Serotonin Smoothies with your student ID!

Nothing is better than a smoothie after the gym…or anytime!

By Callie Hedtke

Callie is going to be a senior at DePaul University in Chicago and is studying Graphic Design. She loves dancing and can usually be found at her school’s gym rehearsing for her next dance show. If she’s not there, she can be found at her computer playing video or out exploring.

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