What happens when the whole idea of exercise triggers anxiety?

Is there a link between exercise and anxiety? / Image source: 3steplifestyle.com
Is there a link between exercise and anxiety? / Image source: 3steplifestyle.com

What happens when the whole idea of exercise triggers anxiety?

It’s difficult not to be anxious in these turbulent times. Just turning on the news can trigger any number of emotional events. For those of us who suffer from anxiety, the outside world can be a scary place when matched with our internal predisposition for catastrophic thinking.

Recent studies have found that exercise can significantly help you reduce anxiety. Scientists believe regular aerobic exercise decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and elevates self-esteem. While there’s no one single reason why exercise helps, we know it increases endorphins. These natural painkillers reduce stress and make us feel good about ourselves.

But what if the idea of exercise causes anxiety?

Being afraid to start something new or even getting back into exercise can be a source of anxiety. We judge and compare ourselves to others who effortlessly pick up moves or look like they were born to be at the front of the class. We can’t even imagine that these people were ever crippled by self-doubt as they approach the gym like a second home. Insecurity matched with our personal narratives about fitness can create more fear. A vicious cycle keeps you from engaging and your brain reinforces these negative relationships.

The best advice is to start off small. Instead of turning to rigorous routines that get your heart rate up, look into activities that you may enjoy. You might benefit from a calming environment instead of a competitive one. Activities like spin, with darkened rooms and loud music, can provide overstimulation for some people — while others will take comfort in the darkness  and the way the class relies on predictable routines. Hot yoga can feel claustrophobic with soaring temperatures — but many classes follow a set sequence of poses which can alleviate the worry of what comes next.

Your first step in using exercise to help alleviate anxiety is to find a routine that works for you. Routine removes surprises and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Try to exercise frequently for smaller amounts of time so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Then focus… concentrate on every movement you make, your breath, and being fully present. Even if you are just going to a walk, make every step count.

Using exercise to combat anxiety doesn’t need to make you feel more anxious. If you are working with a personal trainer, open up and let them know what you’re dealing with. They can modify your workout to improve both your mental and physical well-being.

You don’t really hate exercise. It just feels that way

Exercise with personal trainer / Image credit: besttrainer.co.uk
Exercise with personal trainer / Image credit: besttrainer.co.uk

You don't really hate exercise. It just feels that way

We all need to exercise. It’s essential to our well-being and it kicks our endorphins into high gear. After exercising, we feel better and we can congratulate ourselves on our accomplishments. Whether it’s a walk around the block or a marathon, exercise is fun, stimulating, and challenging. Exercise is everything!

So why do we hate exercise so much? Why does it feel more like punishment or a chore than something we want to do? Yes, our logical minds can remind us of the benefits of exercise but the rest of us can come up with hundreds of reasons not to exercise.

For many of us, exercise was a childhood punishment. Being picked last for teams or repeatedly told we were unco-ordinated has left its mark on our psyche. We feel we’re bad at sports and lack confidence about our ability to be physically active. Exercises, especially team sports, were terrifying. Even today, exercising in public is another opportunity to pick away at our self-esteem and reinforce everything we were once taunted about.

Alternately, maybe exercise was previously an important part of our lives. If we grew up as athletes or in a career that required us to be physically fit, and situations have changed — we might be haunted by our previous ability. Changes in lifestyle, illness, or even a new work environment may have deprioritized your commitment to maintaining a level of strength or endurance. So we’re afraid to start  again from scratch and we’re haunted by what we once achieved and ashamed that we aren’t our previous selves.

Finally, maybe we hate exercise because it’s tied to dieting and our overall feelings of negativity about our bodies. We exercise to compensate for eating dessert. We stay away from certain types of exercise because we don’t want to compare ourselves to people who look better. We believe that exercise only counts if we’re dripping in sweat and can’t catch our breath — anything else is just a waste of time. The only reason for exercising is to lose weight. Period. So if you aren’t burning calories, you are wasting your time.

With so many reasons to hate exercise, how do you start embracing it? Working with a personal trainer in a body-positive environment is the first step. I’ve stressed honesty and compatibility when finding the right trainer for you. Once you start working with someone who doesn’t just understand your goals but understands your story, you will see that you are co-ordinated. You are able to regain some of that muscle mass. Results will detangle themselves from calories burned.

Whether it’s that scared kid or that former Iron Man or Woman, there are ways to unlock our potential. Nobody is good at everything but everyone is good at something. Working as a personal trainer, I’ve yet to encounter the client who is bad at everything. I’m often surprised by the secret depths of skill, co-ordination, and strength that lies in my clients. I take pleasure in their victories and watch them attack a challenging new routine with not just the confidence to succeed but the confidence to fail.

Working with a personal trainer will help you untangle your emotional exercise story from what you can really accomplish. You are an athlete. You are strong. You just might need some help accepting it.

Top 5 things to look for in food tracking apps

food tracking app / image source: damnripped.com
food tracking app / image source: damnripped.com

Top 5 things to look for in a food-tracking app

There are countless fitness apps that promise to make tracking your diet and exercise fast and easy. Some boast five star reviews and testimonials while others appear with nothing less than a brief description. Like many of you, I’ve downloaded an app or two (or twelve…) only to find it unsuited to my needs. Lack of instructions, a small food database, unintuitive interfaces, and ads can all turn your new fitness companion into something that is quickly uploaded to the cloud and forgotten.

The goal of any fitness app should be that it is something you want to actually use. Tracking a meal should take no more than five minutes. Otherwise, it’s a hindrance and not a help.

Here are five things to look for when deciding which app is right for you:

  1. It is has scanning functionality. This is probably the most important element you want in your tracking app. By allowing the app to connect with your camera, it can quickly scan and input nutritional information directly from labels. You won’t have to complete the fields of calories, fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Scanning makes it simple to enter your meal.
  2. It’s been around for a while. A more established app will have a greater database of food to choose from. Many popular apps allow users to add new items to an aggregated database so there’s more chance a barcode or restaurant item is recognized in the future.
  3. It remembers your favourite and previous meals. When we start making more conscious diet choices, there’s a strong chance we are going to be eating the same things more frequently. Apps that allow you to save your favourite foods, recognize previous meals, or allow you group commonly used items will save you time.
  4. It fits your goals. Whether you’re calories counting or just tracking to figure out what food gives you heartburn, there’s an app for that. With so many specific dietary choices, you want to find the right app for you. This means there’s no point downloading a keto-specific app if you are practicing intuitive eating. If you like to share and get support from a community, many apps highlight this. Others will never prompt you to share with virtual friends. Do your research about the features of different apps to understand what makes them special.
  5. It is clear about its payment structure. It may say “free” in the little bubble next to the download button but does that mean you’ll be bombarded with ads that will prevent you from getting to the next screen? Some apps will give you initial access to a full version of the app for a limited time before it locks you into a monthly payment plan or a lite free version. There are plenty of free apps that may fit your needs but there are also paid upgrades that are more aligned with your goals. This decision is yours to make so don’t be fooled into paying for automatic fees or subscriptions if it’s not valuable.

It may take a while to sift through the many food tracking apps out there but there is one out there that’s perfect for you.

What food tracking apps have you benefited from—and which ones would you recommend against? Let us know so we can compile a list and get others on the right tracking track!

Economics 101: is joining a gym worth the investment?

Is a gym membership worth the investment? / Image credit: Victor Freitas
Is a gym membership worth the investment? / Image credit: Victor Freitas

Economics 101: is joining a gym worth the investment?

Thinking of joining a gym?

Last week, we talked about how to make New Year’s resolutions that last longer than February 1st. If you’ve taken my advice, you’ve focused on a single resolution with small, realistic changes. We’ve also discussed setting SMART goals and how having a measurable goal makes it easier to keep track of your progress.

If your resolution is to train for that 5K, lose 20 pounds, or take a new fitness class, you might be thinking of joining one of the big box gyms that are found on almost every main intersection. They are convenient and provide you with both cardio and weight machines. They also offer a range of classes from boxing to dance. For some people, the gym is a one-stop-shop for everything fitness. For most, they are a terrible investment.

While membership fees vary, the industry-wide average falls in at $58 per month, or $696 per year. On top of the monthly fee, some gyms often tack on an “annual fee” (paid at the start of each new membership cycle), and an “initiation fee” (a one-time fee that can run as high as $250, due upon signing).

If you were to use the gym seven times a week, every week, you would be getting a great deal. However, a study run by UC Berkeley economists found that while members anticipate visiting a gym 9.5 times per month, they only end up going 4.17 times per month. That works out to 50 visits per year.

If you are serious about achieving your goals but don’t want to pay for something that you don’t use, think about the role the gym will play in your workout schedule. What does it offer that you currently need? Will you be joining just for a place to run while the weather is cold, or do you want the guided instruction of classes?

If it’s to take a specialized class, are there other studios dedicated to this activities that can fill the gap (e.g., spin, crossfit box, or yoga studio)? These places don’t have monthly maintenance fees and work on different payment schedules. You can find group fitness classes to fit your budget and figure out which studio or activity best fits your goals.

If you are looking for a place to run and lift weights on your own, there are several contract-free gyms in Toronto. With low monthly fees and no perks, you might miss your scented towels, but you will have a basic gym with well-maintained equipment.

Finally, consider building your own home gym. If you have the space, you can turn that spare room — or even spare corner — into your perfect gym. Investing in durable pieces of gym equipment may feel like an initial expense, but once you add up the payments, it’s a great investment. And if you don’t want to commit to purchasing a cardio machine, free weights from Winners or Canadian Tire are a good starting point. There are many apps (free and paid) that can take you through heart-pounding workouts and require minimal equipment. Buy a wall-mount bracket for your tablet so you don’t have to keep checking your phone during a workout. You can also use this during your cardio sessions to replace those gym televisions which always have poor reception or shows you can’t change.

Joining a gym gives you a place to work out, but is it your best fitness investment? The truth is that it may be. You might like the convenience, classes, and services. However, for many people, being stuck in a contract will result in overall frustration. Figure out what role the gym will play before you give them access to your bank account.