The Synchronicity of Physical and Mental Health

I began working out with weights 4 decades ago. Without exercise I would probably be either insane, dead, or look like a chocolate truffle sphere. Working out with weights and walking the treadmill I can safely eat like a little piggy on Thanksgiving and Christmas and every other feast holiday. Because I work out the day/night before I never need to binge on ginger snaps and obsess over a Hershey bar because I can eat anything no matter how rich or sweet or gooey. Why? Because I do not eat a lot of anything and I eat slowly. When I do eat what I desire I enjoy every morsel.

I do not like exercise. To this day the first 15 minutes I am asking myself why I am there and I tell myself it is too difficult. However, I float out when I am finished. Every muscle feels awake and serene. In the beginning I had to trick myself. I kept my work out clothes in the car and would not go home first after work: I scrambled reluctantly to the health club. Fortunately, the one I chose and still frequent after all these years is open 24/7. There were no women when I began working out. It was scary. I was frightened. And self conscious. At the end of the first year two big brawny guys came up to me and put out hands to shake mine. Why when the entire year all of the men were explicitly trying to topple me off any machine I chose to use? The two admitted they had made bets that I would not last a year in that gym. Most of the guys pretended I did not exist or rather they wish I had not invaded their private world. I often felt like a woman entering a hookah bar in Istanbul. Not welcome: eyes turned to stare and glare. I even asked the gym owner, a woman, to buy the gym a 5 pound set of weights and she refused!

Last year when I fell strolling into a conference and broke my femur/thigh bone I realized the thousands of hours I had spent toiling my muscles was worth every bit of sleep or partying that I had declined in my life. I was in the hospital for a few days and the nurses were in disbelief that I took no medications for any illness at all, like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart, etc., and at the outpatient rehab center the physical therapist said my hamstrings were stronger than most of the employees. At 62 I did not feel so ancient. At first I was terrified I would never walk again. But a year later I am almost well. And after five months of absence I am back in the gym.

More and more frequently in therapy I recommend that my clients do exercise. Stretching those muscles transforms thoughts, turns feelings upside down, spurs on the spirit, and, of course, keeps the blood flowing through the veins. Exercise makes me feel very alive.

Betty J Wittels: Licensed Professional Counselor in Tucson, AZ

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