The Benefits of Physical Activity
We are all aware of how the human body benefits from physical activity, but there are other perks worth discussing.
In this post, I am going to focus on the mental benefits of being physically fit. These should be just as motivating, if not more so, to get you started on being super fit over 50.
Rather than telling you that being fit will improve your overall mood and sense of well-being, I will tell you why it has for me. I will take a look back on my own fitness journey and outline the specifics of how my state of mind has changed through running. I will discuss how these changes affect my views and interactions with the world. Most importantly, I will explain how these changes have dramatically increased my quality of my life.
What do I mean by dramatically? I’m the happiest fucking person I know, and it hasn’t always been that way.
To start, I need you to understand this fact. At any given moment, your conscious mind’s potential to experience happiness or despair is entirely equal. Regardless of whatever external forces are at play, you determine your state of mind. The choice is yours.
The First Rule of Running is That It Hurts
Now, let’s go back a few years to when I began running. At the time, if I felt the slightest pain, I would feel a sense of panic and stop. After cutting a run short, I would often take days off. I would think that perhaps I’m overdoing it; that I needed more time to recover. During those early years, I believed a lot of running myths to be accurate, and I would avoid pain at any cost.
Lucky for me, I was able to get through that phase. Unfortunately, most can’t. In our modern era of WebMD and self-diagnoses, the slightest pain leads many people to the conclusion that they can’t run.
To be clear. There are dozens of legitimate running injuries, and I’m not here to discredit anyone’s claim to have one. However, my experience has taught me that new runners can be hypersensitive to the aches and pains that are inevitably part of being a runner.
If you are new to running, understand this, humans are the most proficient long-distance runners nature has ever created. Any inability to run has been eliminated from your genes centuries ago. It wasn’t that far back in history, that if you couldn’t run, you would die. Everyone can run.
Pain is Inevitable, but Suffering is Optional
Now, let’s examine how the pain from running has brought me to a deeper understanding of myself.
Today while running, if for example, my knee hurts, I can calmly analyze it. It has taken years, and countless miles, but I now experience the pain from a detached perspective. I can more objectively determine if it is a real cause for concern, or not? And 99% of the time, it’s not.
When I experience pain, I start by ignoring the discomfort. Depending on the severity, often, my mind simply moves on to other thoughts on its own. If the pain persists, I will nudge my mind in another direction. Perhaps using music, changing my pace, or writing blog posts in my head like this one. If that doesn’t work, as a last resort, I’ll focus so intently on the pain to the point of absolute boredom. Have you ever tried to focus on one thing? It’s hard. The mind wants to wander.
The point is, now, when I experience pain, I stay relaxed and focus on my thoughts. I don’t live in the discomfort, and I certainly don’t let it stop me from enjoying myself. If it’s a serious injury, or if I’m overdoing it. I have full confidence my brain will end the run long before doing any permanent damage. It’s incredible what the human body can endure.
The Mental and Emotional Benefits of Running
Here’s where it gets interesting. That stillness of mind that I developed while running has slowly seeped into my day-to-day life. It takes practice, but by applying the same mental techniques, I can redirect my thoughts away from the stresses of life. In the same way, I dispassionately examine physical pain in my mind while running, I dissect my negative emotions and thoughts in everyday life.
When I experience anger, jealousy, envy, etc., I have made a habit of gently moving my consciousness in another direction.
I also do the same when I find myself dwelling in the past. We’ve all done it, the wish I said this or done that fantasy. Replaying scenarios in your head and how you would have done something different is a waste of time. It prevents you from living in the present. When I catch my mind wandering down that path, I immediately redirect it.
Anxiety and Depression
Through this daily practice of mindfulness, I have been able to identify a lot of my negative triggers. In doing so, it has become clear to me why 1 in 5 Americans take medications for psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression. That’s not even counting those who self medicate.
Without going on a rant, the American culture promotes stress and negativity by an unrelenting focus on materialism and consumerism. Our media bombards us with misinformation designed to foster political and ideological tribalism. The majority of our society spends their free time digesting reality television that normalizes abhorrent behavior. No wonder we’re depressed and anxious.
How to Improve Your Life
Do you want to improve your life experience? Start by rejecting the wanting more mentality. You are already surrounded by everything you’ll ever need to be happy. Turn off your television. Put down your device. Go outside. You will feel better. I promise.
Of course, these are things all of us already know. These are truths I have instinctively always known but didn’t practice until later in life.
I’m sure there are many ways to get there. For me, it is through my running that my behavior is now effortlessly in sync with my ideals.
Running Towards Enlightenment
Running not only keeps me physically fit, but it has also molded me into what I believe is a better version of me. My more profound understanding of the mechanics of happiness has made me more compassionate and empathetic.
It’s helped shape my political views and clarified my thoughts on the meaning of life.
I’m more social and self-confident. I form deeper and more meaningful friendships.
All drama aside, for the first time in my life, I would describe myself as a happy person.
My running has poked holes in my long-held perception of reality, allowing me to glimpse the vast underlying consciousness and the oneness of us all.
Do I live in a perpetual state of bliss? Not even close. Am I enlightened? No.
On a scale from 1 to 10, with one being a tortured soul and ten being pure energy, I would put myself right in the middle. However, in the past few years, through running, and practicing mindfulness, I’ve developed a slight lean towards the higher range. And that’s all I needed to tip the scales towards being happy. It’s all you need too.
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