why can’t I put on my shoes?

Even the most avid exerciser has had this experience:

You schedule a time to workout. You get to the time. You look over at your shoes and… ugh. You just can’t.

Even though you know that you’ll feel better if you do it, even if you actually WANT to exercise, something inside you just won’t let you get your butt out of your chair. It’s like you’ve been velcroed to it, or like your butt has turned into a paperweight. You just can’t.

Why does this happen? Why, when we get to that moment of exercising, are we suddenly filled with dread, fatigue, procrastination, and a strong desire to do ANYTHING ELSE?

One strong hypothesis is that it’s because we evolved on a savannah where running was for SURVIVAL, and your body wants to hold on to its energy in case of an emergency. Even diehard runners have that “ugh I don’t want to put on my shoes” feeling sometimes, because it has nothing to do with how exercise makes you feel and everything to do with your body not really being convinced that it won’t be called upon to run from a tiger or hunt a gazelle.

What do you do about it? Here are some ideas.

Knowledge. I think just knowing that this is a phenomenon helps. When you feel that “ugh” feeling, you can say to yourself, “Thank you, body, for letting me know that I’m not currently under attack and I don’t need to hunt for food. That’s awesome! I’m gonna go anyway because I know I’ll feel energized and glad to be there once I start!”

If that doesn’t do it, you can try tricking your body. Get up to do something else – go to the bathroom, pick up a piece of paper, read a bulletin board, anything. And then continue on to put on your shoes, workout clothes, or whatever else you need to do.

And finally, you can make a deal with yourself. “Look, I’ll put on my shoes and go outside/to the gym/wherever, and if I STILL don’t feel like working out, then I’ll _______________ instead.”

Oftentimes once you get there, you decide, “Well I’m here anyway, I might as well do something.”

Make it not exercise time but… “True Blood” time! Or whatever! If you use your exercise time to do something else too, like watch a favorite TV show, spend time with friends you otherwise don’t necessarily see, or shift gears out of academic mode to give your brain a rest, then it’s not so much “it’s time to exercise” as it is “time to do…” whatever else, something that you totally WANT to do!

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the basics of exericse

We all know exercise is good for us and we should get some, but it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in details about what exercise to do, how long to do it, how often, how intensely, blah blah blah. Don’t worry about it.

If you’re interested in specific guidelines or if you have an injury or other physical limitations, talk to a trainer, but in general, keep it simple:

FREQUENCY
Most days. 4? 5? 6? As much as it takes you to renew you without sapping your energy. Recovery is just as important as effort.

INTENSITY
You should be breathing heavily enough to make it impossible to sing, but not so heavily that you can’t talk in broken sentences. If it hurts, stop!

DURATION
Oh, at least 10 minutes in a row. Longer is better. If you’ve generally had a pretty sedentary life, 20 minutes in a fairly magical number. Once you get past about 45 minutes, though, things get more complicated and you should talk to a trainer.

The more sedentary your life has been so far, the less intensely you need to exercise in order to see benefits. And remember, SOME exercise, ANY exercise is better than none!

10 Ideas to Start the Year Right

Hey, it’s a new academic year, full of promise and possibility! Now is the time to establish a realistic plan for making sure the year goes well. In terms of overall wellness, let’s take a minute to think about a few simple things you can do to improve your semester and your year. You don’t haveto do things PERFECTLY to make them better!

(1) Prioritize sleep. Students who get adequate sleep (7-10 hours per night, depending on the individual) have HIGHER GPAs! All nighters result in lower quality work and lower GPAs – along with greater stress, weakened immune system (more cold and flu!), appetite problems, low energy, moodiness, and anxiety. Sleep is important. Make it a priority.

(2) Eat more foods that look the way they grew and less of the stuff that could never exist in nature. I.e., more “whole foods” (which just means food where you eat the whole plant, instead of some refined part of it) and fewer processed foods. This is an easy rule to follow. Just ask yourself: did it grow that way? Spinach? Yes. Donuts? No. More spinach, fewer donuts. Corn? Yes. Pasta? No. You don’t need to eliminate any foods, just change the proportions, so that MOST of the food you eat is whole and less of it is processed.

(3) MOVE. YOUR. BODY. Exercise is the single most efficient strategy for reducing and managing stress. Some people are natural exercisers, who need to move their body in order to feel good. Your brain will work better if you allow yourself the exercise you need! Others are not natural exercisers; for you, know that you don’t need an intense gym workout to make a difference. A 20 minute walk downtown or around campus will do it. Just go.

(4) Alcohol: limit yourself to beer and wine. Basically no one is ever transported to the hospital because they were drinking beer or wine, only when they’re drinking liquor – it’s just much harder to drink more than you intended when you don’t have to be so careful about measuring. If you’re going to drink liquor, MEASURE CAREFULLY. (*PS – Obviously this tip is just for the 21+ folks in the crowd.)

(5) Another alcohol tip: limit yourself to 2 or 3 drinks – 4, at the absolute max. Students who don’t have more than 4 drinks have higher GPAs than students who have more.

(6) Spend two minutes per day paying attention to your breath. Two minutes. You’ve got two minutes, right? Spend two minutes a day paying attention to the movement of breath into and out of your body, and notice when your mind wanders – which it will. One reason our brains are so amazingly powerful is that they easily connect ideas together, so your mind SHOULD wander. The trick is to NOTICE that your mind has wandered, let those thoughts go, and gently return your attention to your breath. This practice of noticing when your mind has wandered and returning it to what you WANT to attend to trains you to be in control of your brain, so your brain isn’t in control of you.

(7) Be selective about what TV you watch. Recent research has suggested that every hour of TV you watch takes 22 minutes off your lifespan. Ask yourself, “How many minutes off my lifespan would I trade to watch this show?” For example, I would TOTALLY give about 10 minutes to watch an episode of “The IT Crowd,” because it’s AWESOME. But I wouldn’t give anything to watch “The Bachelor.” It’s just not my thing. (Clearly I’m a nerd.) How many minutes of your life is a show worth?

(8) Cultivate a “loving presence.” You know how there are some people who, when they walk into a room, everyone just feels better? You just love spending time with them because they have this warm, positive energy. And then there are people who walk into a room and everyone feels uncomfortable. To be one of the people everyone is glad to see, practice thinking of something positive about each person you meet, when you meet them. Allow yourself to relax with them, give them your full, undivided attention, and make genuine eye contact.

(9) Beat self-critical thoughts by contradicting them! When you notice yourself thinking anything like, “Ugh, I’m a failure,” contradict it right away with a thought like, “Actually I’ve got a lot going for me!” The more you contradict that negative self-talk, the less you’ll believe it! (Which will improve your mood and your GPA!)

(10) Keep your mood positive and stable by avoiding the “exhaustion funnel.” When we start to get burnt out, often we’ll begin trying to simplify our lives by eliminating the “optional” things – which are often the things that GIVE us energy. Instead, when you notice yourself feeling worn out, cranky, or sad, take time away from the things that drain your energy and engage with the things that make you feel alive and whole. You’ll work more efficiently afterward, more than making up for the time spent away from work stuff.

You don’t have to do all of these – heck, you can just do one or two and your whole semester can change!