There is a great pressure to be in shape that exists all around us in society today, flowing from many aspects of our modern culture. The magazines we read, the billboards we pass, the commercials we watch but wish would end – all display the “ideal” body type for men and women. These unrealistic images are dangled in front of impressionable eyes all around the world, transcending language barriers. The pressure of attracting the opposite sex, gaining respect from our own gender, and maintaining self-confidence weighs heavily on the figure. In the eyes of many, going to the gym is the ultimate way to achieve these beauty standards.
Motivation to pursue physical fitness is seldom viewed without a reward in sight, and for many – myself included – that reward is immediate results. When working out in order to achieve an idealized body type, it’s easy to give up when the results don’t appear overnight. This narrow view of fitness, confined only what can be seen on the outside, does not accurately reflect all the rewards one can achieve through exercise. Alternatively, focusing on the internal rewards of exercise not only curbs our generation’s distinct appetite for instant gratification, but also helps people get more out of their workout.
According to a New York Times article written by Jane Brody, “studies have shown that people whose goals are weight loss and better health tend to spend the least amount of time exercising.” This logic illustrates that placing emphasis on external attributes alone is not enough to stay on track. Brody goes on to cite how immediate internal rewards of regular exercise – improved mood, greater energy, social connection, and less stress – better help people to follow through with their fitness goals.
For many, simply making it to the gym, surviving a workout despite the intimidation, and leaving with sweat dripping down their back is an accomplishment in itself. However, the full reward of this achievement is not visible in the mirror. While it may seem counterintuitive—considering a massive amount of energy is expended during a workout—exercise results in higher levels of overall energy. This energy paired with a decrease in stress and enhanced sense of focus make it possible for one to better enjoy their day all because of time spent at the gym.
Without a doubt, the ability to focus oneself on the delayed reward of a fitter figure and healthier body merits admiration. However, by denying the immediate emotional and mental benefits of exercise, one is missing out on the most important results of exercise. Having a steady, clear mind is valuable throughout nearly all aspects of one’s life. It fosters productivity, provides one with more energy, and allows for a greater ability to focus on what is important.
I imagine the effects of exercise are different for everyone. Personally, I used to find the time to work out, now I make the time. It’s become a part of my routine not simply because I would like to stay healthy. Working out is my escape from the stress of the rest of my day, and the rejuvenation to get me through what lies ahead. By taking time out of my day to walk to the Plex and work out, I am able to take a break without being completely unproductive. I also find my head is never as clear as it is at the gym. Though it’s sweaty, smelly, and filled with strangers, it’s the one place I feel truly relaxed.
However, at the end of the day I will admit that most people find themselves at the gym to improve upon themselves physically, not mentally. There is an undeniable drive to sculpt ourselves into that perfect billboard build. The little rewards along the way, however, will be the ones that truly last.
People should be working toward shaping their state of mind as well as their physical appearance. This is not to say people shouldn’t work out to stay healthy, but rather that “healthy” applies to more than just physical appearance. Mental and emotional focus, energy, and relaxation can help people make more out of the hours spent outside the gym. Looking good is great, but feeling good is even better.