I wrote a little while ago about how lots of the things we call self care aren’t really. We use the term one way generally but it really means things you do to improve your health like taking medications as prescribed, tracking symptoms and following a diet plan that happen outside a medical setting. We’ve really co-opted the term to mean treating yourself. I really don’t think that’s a problem and language is always evolving but self care (the definition type) is actually really important to. A bubble bath is fun and relaxing for sure but that’s about all it is. Exercise however, hits all the same notes as that face mask but it also does so much more. Everyone is always so busy these days so getting ALL of the elements at one point in time makes it pretty perfect too. So whether you are wanting to improve your mood, physical health or mental health getting moving is where it’s at!
Components and types of self care
Self-care technically speaking is all the stuff you do to take care of your health when not sitting in a medical setting. I wrote a post about that here if you are interested. But we have co-opted the language significantly since then. Now when we talk about self care it’s just as likely to mean something that helps us recharge our batteries. It might be things like taking a day off from work, getting a spa treatment or getting out in the garden for an evening. It could also be things we should do but really don’t want to like opening all those scary envelopes and making a budget to deal with them or finally getting some therapy. Those are hard, hard things to do but they really do make us way better off in the long run. Other times self care is really just indulging in something. It might be some new clothes, an expensive handbag or some wine and cheese in the evening. Is it self care? Maybe, but we all need to indulge ourselves from time to time too! Sometimes when we talk about self care now we are talking about things that really aren’t good for us but we just really want to do. These are things like going all out on a night at the bar, sleeping the weekend away and doing serious drugs. I would say these things aren’t self care at all but rather pretty much the opposite. Really working out provides all of these components concurrently and efficiently. Let’s dig into that!
Better physical and mental health
Out of all of the things we have discussed and that we post about with the hashtag #selfcare exercise is pretty much the only thing that meets the classic definition. You are doing something that will make you so much healthier even if there is nothing wrong with you. If you do have a health condition to improve upon I really can’t think of one that isn’t improved by getting more movement in your life. Really not a single one!
The mental health benefits of exercise are very often overlooked and more often misunderstood. It’s a bit of a cliché to say we start for physical health benefits but stay for the mental ones. People who don’t get much or any cardio often misunderstand this. For example even though I went on an on about it for years my mom was still struck by just how much her mental health improved when she started running. That’s not the part that’s a misunderstanding though, just surprising to her. She was telling a friend just how much she found her mental health improved after she started running. Her friend incorrectly assumed that meant she was struggling with it before. That’s what people incorrectly assume so often that if you exercise primarily for the mental benefits then there must have been something wrong with you. If I told perfectly well balanced you that there was this thing that would take your mood to a 10, make you feel powerful, double your energy levels and improve your sex life in addition to making you look and feel your best you would probably assume it’s a wonder drug right? Well regular intense exercise does all that and more and there doesn’t have to be something wrong with you to want that!
Alone time or social time
Extroverted or introverted we all need some alone and together time in our lives. Though I do love working with honey and hanging out with him in the evenings sometimes I do need to be away from him. Either all alone or just with some one who is not him. While nothing is preventing me from getting away for a bit exercise is just an easy way to do it. Getting out there and getting moving gives me that. If I want to talk to someone, anyone else I have other runner and yoga friends I can call on. You can workout in large groups (usually) or where you won’t see anyone else and it’s an easy way to get some low key people time too. You might be a recluse who could use a group fitness class or a hyper-social person who needs a distraction to be alone. Either way working out can provide you with whatever level of socialization you want.
A good hard workout can take any mood and elevate it. Vigorous, regular movement is even as good as meditation in controlling clinical depression. No matter what sort of mood you’re in before you start 99.9% of the time you will be in a significantly better mood when you stop. Studies also show that a single bout of exercise keeps your mood high for days afterwards which is crazy! No matter what sort of self care activity we do most of us are looking to be in a better mood while we’re doing it and after we’re done. Working out is one of the only self care activities that science guarantees will actually put you in a better mood.
Time in nature
Most of us don’t really spend much time outdoors anymore. If you exclude time in your own yard that number is even less. Lots of people do go to a gym to get moving but I would encourage you to investigate activities that you can do outdoors. If you join a gym your view will never change but outdoors what you can see while working out is literally endless. Getting outside has self care benefits that staying indoors just can’t match! You can read about the benefits of taking it outdoors over here on another site I write for. One reason is those activities are usually free but also you get a bigger benefit from getting outdoors. Physically you burn more calories dealing with the elements but the mental benefits of getting outdoors take getting active from an errand to a treat, at least in my opinion.
Spending time outdoors also has the potential to shape and expand your world view in a few different ways. Getting moving in the world a few times a week makes you appreciate the seasons, lets you see how others interact with the world and can make you feel small but in a good way. If you spend time in nature it makes you more likely to care about the environment too. Over 20+ years running and cycling outside I’ve seen illegal dump sites, shoreline erosion, hotter temperatures and rising sea levels in my little town. I definitely care about the environment anyway but getting outdoors makes me care about it more and that’s exactly what the world needs. I could certainly be doing more for the world but getting outside has lead me to making it a point to pick up litter, cleaning up an illegal dump site and removing plastics from the ocean. Because I’m out there regularly it might actually make a little bit of a difference too.
Sense of achievement
Dopamine is a powerful thing! Often dopamine’s effects are what we are chasing when we go in for more dubious versions of self care. A big part of the reason we turn to drugs and alcohol in the first place is the dopamine rush it provides. Most other forms of self care just aren’t going to provide you with the sense of accomplishment that exercising does. Feeling like you accomplished something after your self care session really changes the game and can inspire you to carry that over into other parts of your life. If I’m being honest checking off important goals is actually really hard most of the time. The sense of accomplishment that comes from getting a run in feels just the same but it’s so easy it sometimes feels like I’m cheating. Add to that training for a specific challenge and then crushing it and exercise can make you feel super human all while prioritizing self care pretty nicely!
Appreciate your body maybe for the first time
A lot of what we call self care aims to help us look better or at least make us feel better about our bodies and our outside appearance. We get our hair or nails done, do a mud mask or get a massage which are all really common forms of self care. They all treat our bodies well but not in a really meaningful or lasting way. Turning to exercise does the exact same thing but it’s a permanent change. Sure you might not feel as pretty or cute during your hard sweaty workout as you do during your pedicure but after your done it really changes your whole body and being. It also makes you appreciate your body for all the amazing things it can do for you. Even as you’re working towards a body you’re proud of exercise will still make you take notice of how great the one you’re in right now is. That goes a long, long way to boosting your confidence overall. Learning to love your body is an important and incredibly hard thing to do but working out regularly is one hell of a short cut!
I do love me a bubble bath, mud mask and fro yo night. It’s relaxing but also fleeting plus the process takes hours! It’s hard to prioritize self care but prioritizing exercise is a no brainer. Do you think exercise is the ultimate form of self care? Do you have an even better option? Leave it in the comments below!