Deguires make terrible athletes. Neither my father, mother, brother nor I could play a sport or catch a ball. To this day, if you throw a ball in my direction, I reflexively squeeze my eyes shut, and duck down, like I’m fleeing a bomb. I jog with plodding feet, arms held tight, my face grimacing with each step. I can’t skip rope, do a cartwheel, or even shoot pool. Nothing.
Gym class was a nightmare for me. I would trudge dutifully around the track, dramatically clutching my side in pain. The only gymnastic skill I could execute was a basic somersault. When teams were selected, I was inevitably picked last. I would wait, eyes cast downward in humiliation, knowing that the kids who finally got me would smack their foreheads in frustration. There was exactly one time when I was not picked last. It was my first day at a new school, and the kids didn't know what they were in for. I remember feeling simultaneously thrilled for me and sorry for them.
So, how is it that I am now 56 years old and I regularly work out? I have had a gym membership for over 20 years. I lift, I push, I huff on the elliptical. I take Zumba classes, executing my Latin steps with plodding feet. I do all of this not because I love exercise, and Lord knows, not because I’m good at it. But exercise for me is a miracle drug, and I think it could be for you too.
The science clearly shows that exercise improves mood. Yoga is fantastic for anxiety. The deep breathing and quiet concentration from yoga can still the racing mind, soothing the nervous “what ifs?” I recommend Yoga to most of my anxious patients, some of whom find it so helpful that they no longer require my psychotherapy services. Exercise is excellent for depression. One study showed that depressed patients were equally improved by either a course of anti-depressant medication, or regular vigorous exercise. Of course, when you are seriously depressed, it’s hard just to get out of bed, let alone go to work out. But, just the same, that is how powerful exercise can be, if you can force yourself do it.
For me, I exercise when I am sad, when I am anxious, and when I am angry. Let’s be clear: at the time, I never want to go to the gym. I long to mope, to complain, and to curl up on the couch. But, if I can force myself get moving, I invariably feel better after ten minutes. Exercise is my miracle cure. I don’t exercise for beauty. I don’t even exercise for my physical health, although I am grateful to be well. I exercise because it makes me feel so much better emotionally. Exercise is a go-to coping tool and it helps me manage life’s many hard times.
So join me in the gym! I’m the one trudging awkwardly on the elliptical, with a too-red face. I’m the one in the back of the exercise class, because I can't reach my arms above my head. No matter, I’m the one who is feeling much better now. I don’t care if I was last-picked. (That’s a lie; I still really care). But hey, gym class is over; life's complexities go on and on. Keeping moving helps keep us going.
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.