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The Mental Aspect of Exercise Routines: You Don't Always Have to Turn to the Gym for Exercise

Updated on April 6, 2016

Exercise:The Ultimate Brain Hack

Have you ever started up an exercise routine and for some reason other things just start to fall into place? You’re sleeping better and waking up early. You might even notice a small increase in motivation. The issue is keeping it up for more than a week or two. This should come as no surprise that exercise is next on my list. In this chapter, we will get into why exercise it so important and how you can make it fit into your daily routine. You will hear me say this many times in this book, but the goal is to have you build new habits and more importantly, be able to STICK TO THEM. I will get into the science of habit formation in a later chapter. Before we continue, I want you to think about your exercise habits. Do you exercise on a daily basis? Maybe a few days a week? I’m not only talking about going to the gym or going out for a jog. What about simply walking? Depending on your job and how much walking you do on a daily basis, you could be burning more calories and getting more exercise than you think. What has worked for you in the past? We have all had grandiose visions of the perfect body before, but I’m going to guess you make it to week 3 and then give up. Does this sound like you? Let’s talk exercise and how it effects the brain.

For decades, scientists and doctors have linked exercise to overall brain health. It enhances cognitive functions and can actually create new brain cells through a process called “neurogenesis”. It is the best thing out there for depression. I just feel great after a successful morning workout. It centers me and gets me ready to start my day. There have been plenty of studies done to show that it can actually surpass the typical antidepressant medications that are so common in our society. Exercise boosts all the chemicals in the brain that make you feel good. GABA, serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine, just to name a few. Being active will also help with stress! Exercise helps to increase brain size and boost new cell growth. The real issue is why do so many people have issues sticking to a new exercise routine? There are a few potential reasons, but most of it comes down to the fact that they picked the wrong kind. Gyms have to make most of their money from the wave of New Year’s resolutions that come with the start of every year. There is just one problem. We lose interest too fast and never make it to that point where we build a new habit. It could also be that you chose a form of exercise that you don’t enjoy. Most people tend to get very self-conscious when stepping foot in a gym. This is even worse for somebody who is overweight or has a bit of social anxiety. That feeling that people are judging or looking at you can destroy your motivation for the remainder of your workout. When you break it all down, it’s simply a place to burn calories. Every person has a different goal when it comes to exercise. I want you to think about what you want to accomplish. Are you looking for something to keep you mentally sharp and just get your heart rate up? Would you like to look like Arnold and put on some muscle? Assess your body type as it is right now. If you are skinny and have a lower percentage of body fat, chances are you want to put on some muscle and gain some definition for pool season. On the other hand, if you have some weight that you would like to lose, maybe you just want that calorie burn and to feel good when stepping on the scale. For me, I use exercise as something to build some muscle, but also just to get me going and motivated before I begin my daily grind. I prefer to exercise a little in the morning after a bulletproof coffee. It gets me ready for the day. The key to finding something that will get you to your goal is choosing the right style of exercise. Not everybody needs to hit the bench press machine at the gym. In this chapter, I will be coming at this from the mental side of things. If you want to lose weight, any exercise along with the ketogenic diet should turn your body into a fat burning machine. Dave Asprey, the “Bulletproof Executive”, says in one of his books that he lost all the fat around his gut and even got a 6 pack from his ketogenic eating habits alone! When your body is finally using stored fat for fuel, it typically speeds up the fat loss. I can’t guarantee this will work you everyone, but do your own research and find a routine that will work for you and your goals. Anything that is able to raise your heart rate close to its maximum can be considered exercise. I will talk about a few of my favorites.

Running or Jogging

I mentioned at the start of this book that I used to be a distance runner, but since college I have branched out into trying many other kinds of physical exercise. Not every person can be a runner. It makes you more prone to injury and is just more difficult than everything else out there. Too many people decide they want to get fit and lose weight and turn to running or jogging. They end up doing it for a week and then missing that one day that ends the routine. Don’t get me wrong, if you enjoy a good run like I do, it’s amazing. Running is a huge confidence builder for me. I like to put in some headphones with my favorite music and do HIIT style workouts. I will run or sprint during the chorus and then walk or jog during the verse. The studies are out there to show you get more from doing shorter, higher intensity when compared to running or working out for longer periods. This makes it perfect for building a routine and fitting it into your daily routine, but you can always just add it in when you are feeling up to it. Some days will be better than others and I find that I run on my best days. That day when I made some good money and my confidence levels are through the roof is normally when I will lace up my shoes and hit the pavement. If you go online or just explore a little bit, chances are, you have plenty of trails and designated areas to go for a run or a walk/jog close to where you live. There are a few within walking distance of where I live and it makes it extremely convenient.

Walking

In terms of simply burning calories, going out for a brisk walk for an hour has the ability to burn the same amount of calories that you would burn in a gym workout. I love to walk. If the weather is nice outside, I will always try to work in at least 45 minutes of walking. I try to get out and walk a minimum of 3 days a week. You get Vitamin D from the sun and fresh air. It’s also a great way to test out the other hacks you have been trying. I will often find myself shocked with my level of alertness and ability to come up with new ideas while out for a walk. Colors will seem brighter and my ability to focus in on objects in the distance is heightened. For the average person, going out for a brisk walk for just 1 hour can burn around 300 calories! That’s a small meal! One of my favorite parts about walking is that it helps with social anxiety. I know a few people who struggle with social anxiety and I used to get really bad social anxiety when going to grocery stores. Chances are, if you are going out for a walk during the day, you will run into some people doing the same. Work on building up that confidence while you’re out walking. Hold your head up and always look forward when passing somebody. Put in those earbuds and just enjoy yourself. If you live close to shopping centers or the grocery store, go for a walk to accomplish some errands! I really enjoy mapping out a nice walk to a few different stores in the area, especially when the weather is nice outside. Bring a backpack if you plan on purchasing anything of course. Make a day out of it!

P90X/Insanity

These workout programs are a wonderful starting point if you are having some troubles putting together a routine. They are daily DVD workouts that you can pop in and get a nice 500-600 calorie burn first thing in the morning. The best part about these is you can do them on days when the weather is crappy. The weather can influence our decision to exercise. Obviously, if it’s pouring down rain, you aren’t going to be too motivated to go for a walk or a jog. When I first started following all my rules and changing my lifestyle habits around, I started with P90X. I ordered the DVDs almost 8 years ago and luckily never trashed them! The workouts range between 45 and 90 mins. The program is great. You have some days where you are doing weight and resistance training, while the others have you doing cardio, yoga, or stretching on the “off” days. You can even do a “lean” program where the resistance days are cut out and you focus on cardio and core. The P90X program is a great option for anybody who wants to get some abdominal muscles. It will kill your abs. I have never tried Insanity, but have heard good things about that program. These are a good starting point for people who have the money to spend on them.

Yoga

Yoga is one of my favorites. I had never done any yoga at all until I purchased the P90x program. My vision of yoga was a room full of people just stretching and laying on the floor. I figured it was geared more towards meditation than it was for working your muscles. I was so wrong. I started doing the P90X yoga dvd, which was almost impossible for me to complete for the first month. I have even taken classes at gyms and studios and it’s not easy at all. They will have you doing all sorts of moves that target flexibility and balance. Half of the moves will target your shoulders while you hold your arms in the air for extended periods of time. The goal of yoga is to target a certain area of the body, while keeping the rest of the body calm. If you are laying on your back with your legs in the air, you want to keep the upper half of your body calm. It is hard, but after a few weeks of sticking with it, you begin to feel the relaxing side set in. It’s hard to explain, but an hour of yoga will relax your mind like nothing you have ever felt before. Balance postures cause your muscles to make tiny adjustments constantly, which relaxes the central nervous system. It will feel like somebody gave your brain a massage. Gaining flexibility will be a confidence builder and it will help with your overall fitness goals. I would really recommend at least giving yoga a shot. Meditation mixed with raw muscle isolation can be a very powerful experience, especially when you are done. It will have a calming effect on the rest of your day. Many of us can benefit from it!

Boxing and Karate

When I was younger, I practiced karate for about 4 years. Unfortunately, I never kept up with it after my family moved to a different state. I really wish I had! Boxing and karate have to be the biggest confidence builders on this list. Why is that? You feel like a total badass. I have never tried boxing myself, but have a few friends who swear by it and have lost a lot of weight. Karate is great for discipline. It is similar to yoga, in that you will work on flexibility and it will have an overall calming effect with all the repetition. Most styles of martial arts focus a little on meditation as well. This is something that I really want to get back into at some point and a great option for anybody who needs a real kick in the ass along with their exercise.

Gym

Getting into a good habit of going to the gym and focusing on different muscle groups for each day of the week is the most obvious way to get your exercise. Out of all the exercise options, this is the more advanced option. This might be confusing to some people. Let me explain. Creating a routine by going to the gym is last on my list for a few reasons. The biggest reason is that it is the hardest thing for the average person to stick with for more than a couple weeks. The habit itself is never created. This is especially true for anybody with body image problems or social anxiety. Some people just prefer to be alone when they are at the gym. I have seen people get back in their cars and not feel up to it when there are too many people in the room. They either come back later or they skip the day all together. I would recommend that you work in another form of exercise as a backup. I prefer to use the gym as a supplemental way to get exercise. It’s there if I want to go, but I’m not relying or feeling pressured to go every day. The gym is the first choice for anybody starting a new routine and 90% of time they quit after a few weeks. The gym is great for the young and buff crowd and if that is you, then the gym is a perfect option. If you are uncomfortable with the gym, even just a tiny bit, choose something else or just supplement another routine with the gym when you feel like it. Even if you are looking to build muscle and get ripped, body weight exercises or routines from a simple free phone app can get the job done. The diet will do most of the work for you with minimal weighted exercises.

The Main Point

Exercise is important. Just like with everything else, you have to find something that you enjoy. You have to want to put on your shoes and it should never feel like a chore. There are a lot of options out there where you might even be able to meet some new people! You could even start a small weekend running group with some like-minded people who you enjoy spending time with. Most people associate exercise and weight loss with going to the gym. My mother recently had a battle with an awful colon infection. It almost killed her. After having 2 surgeries and healing, I started to discuss living a healthier lifestyle and adding in some exercise, but nothing really ever came from our talk. It is not uncommon to say you want to improve your health, especially if you are laying in a hospital bed, but we fall back into our old habits as soon as we get back home. A healthy exercise option can be as simple as taking the dog for a walk at the local dog park, but instead, people think they have to buy a treadmill and jog in the dark, damp basement. If you get anything from reading this chapter, just understand that exercise and burning calories can come in many different forms. There are a lot of people who have gotten completely ripped from just doing yoga. There are even people who have gotten to that almighty 6 pack from just walking or jogging. Raising the heart rate at least once a day will not only improve your health and muscle endurance, but it will really start to improve how you think and how you structure your day to stick to habits and an overall healthy routine. When you start to workout, other things will begin to fall into place. You will notice small things at first. For example, maybe you jump into doing the dishes or doing some laundry a little sooner than usual. You may notice you are a little more focused on what you put in your mouth. The idea of this whole book is to use everything together. Give it 110% and everything will fall into place with time. Everything here is designed to make you stick with the routine. The biology and lifestyle hacks we will discuss are all focused on changing your mind so you do it all without even having to think about it. Your mind is your own worst enemy and we want to change that so it is your best friend. Come at it the same way every single day. Show up for the day instead of just making it through the day. It will all carry over and improve not only your mental health, but it will improve your work life as well. The “work-life balance” is important and how you perform with your work will feed directly off of how you live your day.

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