The True Gift of Exercise
Katelyn Sander

The True Gift of Exercise

Living Well

Written by: Meg Sharp, Wellbeing Consultant, Cambridge Group of Clubs

“Happiness” is a provocative word. And while many of us might aspire to a life filled with more of “it” – exactly what “happiness” is, is complicated. It’s difficult to define – in part because it means very different things to different people – and – because of all that – can be challenging to attain.

We’re going to try and wrap “happiness” up in a beautiful box for you. One you can gift to yourself and then to those you love and care about. 

But in order to properly gift wrap “happiness”, we need to wrestle with what it is. 

Ask anyone to define “happiness” and they will regale you with a sentence or perhaps an entire paragraph of what “it” means. Ask Harvard professor Arthur C Brooks, and he will discuss it with you for months, as he has developed and teaches a semester long course on the topic. 

The simple distillation of his research is this: “Happiness” has three key ingredients:

  1. Enjoyment
  2. Satisfaction
  3. Purpose

Yes, I know, those terms are equally complicated and somewhat elusive. Our gift to you, is keeping this whole endeavour simple.

Creating just a little more of something positive in your life makes a difference. One small impact from which the ripple effect can be transformational. 

I don’t know any of you well enough to be able to tell you how to add Enjoyment, Satisfaction, and Purpose to your lives. Quite frankly, I do not know enough about life to be able to do that.

But I do know a thing or two about exercise. Including the fact that being healthier, stronger, fitter, more powerful creates LARGE ripples. Start linking those ripples together and you create something quite remarkable. One little notch in a folded piece of paper makes a pretty snowflake. What happens if you make 100 little notches? Wow.

Here in lies the true gift of exercise: When you find ways of infusing your workout with Enjoyment, Satisfaction, and Purpose a great many things happen.

Here’s how to “happy-up” your workouts:

Enjoyment: Find activities you genuinely like or love to do. 

  • If having company during a workout is fun, figure out how to make that happen. Join one of our Group Fitness classes. Take part in our Squash Leagues. Build a Small Group Training session. 
  • Love being outside? Amazing. Walking on the treadmill is not necessarily “better” because you can jack the incline up to 10%! If you love walking outside, do it. Can you find a hill or some stairs? Great. If not – don’t worry about it. Just get out there and walk. 
  • Love to swim but realize that doesn’t round out your need for resistance training? Swim your heart out – because it is fabulous for you – and make time to do a 20-minute full body workout 2 times per week. We can help you put together an effective routine. Just ask Lauren (at the Adelaide Club), Sean (at the Cambridge Club), and Rob (at the TAC)!

Satisfaction: Choose lots of activities and exercises that you are good at. It feels great to do things well. Work on getting even better at those things. Hire a trainer for a few sessions to help you get to the next level. (Lauren, Sean, and Rob can help here too!) Pushing yourself a little more will give you a sense of accomplishment. It’s awesome being great at something and even better when you start getting better at it. It’s really powerful when you start to master something you couldn’t previously do.

Choose one or two activities or movements that you know – ultimately – would be beneficial for you. For some of us that means learning a new sport or activity. For others adding specific upper body, lower body, or core exercises that we’ve been avoiding because we don’t like doing them, aren’t good at, don’t know how to do yet know they would be beneficial. Figure out how to add those in, a little bit at a time. Start small and work your way up. Again – hire coach if it helps. (Seriously, Lauren, Sean, and Rob will help you find the perfect coach for you!) Interestingly enough, as your workouts become more satisfying, they become more enjoyable too.

Purpose: I love this about exercise: it’s so easy to make it purposeful. Simply adding in layers of measurable goals can infuse your workouts with a sense of purpose. The measurements can be quantitative or qualitative. I personally recommend both. 

Quantitative examples: Walking 5,000 steps every day. Increasing your Deadlift to 150lbs or moving from 3 sets to 5. Running 3km every other day. Committing to a structured workout 4 days of the week. Starting every morning with 5 minutes of mobility.

The qualitative measurements have more to do with harnessing your intrinsic motivation to exercise. (Which in and of itself is powerfully positive stuff.) This has to do with the deep WHY behind your exercise. Creating purpose from exercise in relation to how it makes you FEEL. 

  • Going for a run at the end of the day because you know it will reduce your stress level. 
  • Lifting weights because you know it makes you feel better about your body. 
  • Swimming laps because it makes you feel like an athlete. 
  • Exercising first thing in the morning because it impacts the rest of your day. 
  • Doing a TOUGH workout because it makes everything else seem more manageable (AND makes you feel like a rockstar). 
  • Committing to calming workouts because they make you feel more grounded, patient. 
  • Being mindful during your workouts as you notice this helps you escape for a moment from the chaos of life, that it makes the workout itself more effective, it helps you be mindful at other times, and it helps your brain cells grow and thrive.

The cool thing about exercise with a purpose is, as you tick off your proverbial checklist of accomplishments, the exercise becomes more satisfying, which of course adds to the enjoyment.

Enjoyment, Satisfaction, and Happiness are by nature fleeting. We are dynamic creatures, continually shifting back to a certain baseline. Ready to be lifted or lowered at any given moment. And purpose? Not necessarily fleeting, but can be a beast to grapple with.

The gifts within exercise can be fleeting too. However, exercise creates structural changes impacting the body and the brain that are permanent and indeed will grow, provided we continue to exercise. And the fleeting, positive feelings exercise brings can be enjoyed on a daily basis. So, we feel enjoyment, satisfaction, AND purpose every single day. And “happiness” – however you define it – IS contagious. It spills into your day. It spills onto others. And colours your whole life for the better.

Happy Holidays. (Our apologies if the wrapping isn’t entirely sweat proof.)

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