Can seven days without exercising really have an impact? It sure can.
What happens when you don’t work out? That was a question I asked myself recently.
By ‘work out’ I’m not talking about a relationship or hitting a milestone birthday and realising your life hasn’t turned out as you planned – although I am SO here for the existential crisis issues. No, today I’m talking about working out in the sense of exercising. Moving your body. Making your 10,000 daily steps on your Fitbit. You know the jam.
I’m usually pretty routine with my exercise routine. I don’t love doing it, but I make myself do it around three times a week. Sometimes it’s less than that and very rarely it’s more – but those weeks usually only happen when I’ve come back from a beach holiday feeling shit about how I looked in a bikini. I know these are all unhealthy thoughts (I’m sorry) but that’s reality for me. I’m not super skinny and I don’t pretend to love it – I’ll do a 5k run or a 45-minute gym class and that’s it for me, I’m happy to leave and chomp on the crisps.
However, for the past week or so I haven’t exercised. I know this possibly isn’t a big deal for a lot of people but as explained, it’s not my routine. I went for a run last Wednesday and since then I did nothing at all, beyond a couple of short walks. This was for a couple of reasons – I was away in an Airbnb for a couple of days and then I stayed with my parents for the weekend and was busy doing fun stuff that didn’t include breaking a sweat. Usually I’d get straight back to it on a Monday or Tuesday after the weekend but this week, I didn’t.
When I’m feeling a bit crabbit (that’s a Scottish word for grumpy) going out for a run usually clears my head. It empties it of all the usually nonsense I have rattling around – issues to do with my job, where I live, where I’m headed – and gives me a bit of perspective. It’s the equivalent of a quick wipe down and Dettol spray of the kitchen worktop before you start cooking a Sunday roast and it all starts up again and before you know it you got half a chicken carcass and an eruption of potato peelings and congealed gravy to deal with. So not a permanent fix, of course, but something that keeps you sane. Saner.
However, I really noticed the difference in not working out this week – a lot more than I expected to. Frankly, I’ve been like a bear with a sore head. I’ve been tired, grumpy, anxious, antisocial, paranoid… I could go on. Yes, I’ve had a bunch of other things going on to fret about, but let’s face it, there’s always something going on, and usually I manage to face it with a bit more of a cheerier disposition than I’ve managed this week. Honestly, I can describe my mood at times this week as being complete and utter despair. That bad.
So what are my learnings from this? I guess the biggest takeaway is that exercising is not just vanity – it’s also so important to your mental health. We all know this anyway, but sometimes it feels like the whole fitness industry is still geared how you look on Instagram, rather than how you actually feel. It’s great to work out so you feel good in certain items of clothing, but that’s not actually the biggest factor – it’s all about what’s in your head.
The good news is I finally managed to drag myself out for a run tonight, and I already feel so much better. I’m not saying it’s an instant fix, but I do feel a sense of achievement in having forced myself out in the cold when the easy option was to take a spot on the sofa. The small victories matter, and my head is a lot quieter tonight – thank goodness for that.