If I could sell my post-workout endorphins without getting Jeff Sessions on my doorstep, I’d…at least be able to afford Classpass. Don’t worry, DEA, I’m not about to peddle my dopamine high or anything. But I am becoming a personal trainer(/running coach/health coach/life coach/writer), because I feel overtaken by this overwhelming urge to give the others the gifts that my health journey has given me.
After battling a yearlong litany of overuse injuries and mental burnout, my pessimistic side says I’ve only gotten muscle imbalances, a failed marathon block, and egg on my face. But between training for a marathon, reporting on women’s triathlon, rehabbing and relapsing and rehabbing again, and recovering from mental burnout, I’ve questioned and redefined my definition of whole-body health, and the role of fitness in it. Because if it all came down to BQs, calorie burn, or the benefits cited by research, I’d have quit about three injuries ago.
Simply put, better health empowers us to become better people. Unlike anything else, our workouts puts us in the best mental, physical, and emotion positions to blossom into our best selves, both on and off the road. By no means are these benefits immediate- or automatic. But from improving our physical health to reducing depression and anxiety, promoting creativity and memory, and fostering resilience, each workout plants the seeds of self-growth. Let it bloom, and it’ll germinate in the rest of your life.
Because when you take stock of your out-of-shape self, and take that first step from destructive self-deprecation to planned action, you exert control over a previously uncontrollable problem, helping you exert agency in the other areas of life that seem out of reach.
And when you hold yourself accountable to your Garmin or muscle gains, unfeeling judges that won’t bullshit you like your family or friends, you stand face-to-face with the emotions you spend, drink, eat, or party away. That voice in your head screaming that you’re not strong enough to succeed, that you’re just not worth the sacrifice and discomfort necessary to grow. Only by pushing through the excuses and complacency can you realize the truth: That your strength has existed within you the whole time, like a door waiting for you to turn the key and to unlock it.
Do that enough times and it turns into habit. You’ll recognize those nasty emotions when they seep into your classes, your work projects, your interactions with others.
You see that your input directly correlates with your output and realize that your genes, your peer group, even your past choices don’t dictate your destiny. You see that your input directly correlates with your output, if not immediately then through the consistent, persistent practice required to attain any goal worth setting.
When you start every day by setting and slaying a goal, or simply showing up for yourself, you spark a positive mindset and drive for self-improvement that naturally seeps into the rest of your day. Your classes. Your work projects. Your family.
And if you’re enriched by your own journey, and pursuing your personal fulfillment, you become less attached to everyone else’s trappings of success. The sister with the Pinterest-worthy kitchen and passive-aggressive comments. The college friends with “better careers” than yours. The endless social media comparisons. Once you turn away from your own negativity, stagnancy, and comparisons, you stop tolerating them in others, too. Better yet, you gravitate toward communities that share your commitment to self-growth. Your running buddies, your lifting partners. People who, simply by living their best lives, grant you life.
Over miles and coffee, you hear them describe what drives them, the snap moment that inspired a lifestyle change, and all the trials and tribulations. And you realize that while the supporting details change, the overall trajectory and emotions- the boundless energy, the deeper purpose, the perseverance and mental clarity- remains the same. And those basic effervescent qualities, the ones that truly make us human, bond us, even if we can’t talk Trump’s foreign policy.
And more importantly, we treat them- and everyone around us- with more compassion. By showing ourselves the kindness necessary to nourish ourselves mentally and physically, we learn to apply that same kindness to others. Because stereotype of the selfless giver be damned, these qualities are muscles that need to be built through practice.
And we can only start with ourselves, the people we see 24 hours a day, every day. When you deem yourself worthy of the time and sweat equity, you can invest those same qualities to your relationships. And when those people start to sap you of your time, energy, and spirit? After devoting so much time and energy to your personal health, you’re more likely protect it with established boundaries.
While we can inspire others by modeling well-rounded health, it goes even deeper than that. Since our nutrition and fitness choices literally change the expression of our DNA, each positive lifestyle choice puts our children and grandchildren in a better position to experience those benefits, too.
Imagine if everyone in America started that process, not just for themselves, but for their kids and grandkids. Sounds grandiose and woo-woo, I know. But I look at a society in crisis, of chronic disease, emotional stress, non-existent work-life balance, and crippling fear, and I see health as the common cure.
But like obviously, it’s easier said than done. I look at people suffering from chronic illnesses, complications of obesity, or just a general meh-ness, and I go all Jerry Maguire-style “help me help you!” I want to wrap all of those gifts I just mentioned in super-snazzy paper, deliver it to their doorways, and be like,” All this can be yours, all you have to do is work.” I want to work with them, to pinpoint the barriers to their potential- whether a lack of confidence, information, or resources- and give them the tools they need to unlock it.
Whether I can or can’t remains to be seen. But all people, all experiences, and all pain have a purpose, an obligation to serve something beyond themselves. Mine feels like helping others unlock their potential, from physical to personal and professional, in a results-driven yet compassionate, balanced, and fun way.
Unless going full Breaking Bad on that endorphin-high business is still an option.