Exercise is a powerful way of building self-esteem. It’s a natural mood lifter, it provides a sense of accomplishment and it helps you to look and feel better about yourself. While it’s good for everyone, it’s particularly beneficial if you have a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you get moving. However, it can be challenging to start or maintain exercise especially when you don’t like exercise, don’t feel like it, you’re anxious, depressed, tired or busy. The good news is that there are many ways to exercise and it doesn’t have to be something you dread. You can find ways to exercise and build self-esteem at the same time.
Tips on Building Self-Esteem Through Exercise
- Exercise for the right reasons. Focus on what you want to gain from exercising. E.g. good health, better mood, healthy weight, more energy or improved self-esteem. Do it because it’s good for you and not for anyone else. Do it because you want to create healthy habits for life rather than a short term fix. Exercise in a way that’s maintainable. Exercising for someone else or simply for short term weight loss is probably not something you’ll continue with. It’s setting yourself up for longer term failure.
- Exercise regardless of your negative feelings or thoughts. You may have a range of excuses for not exercising and it’s easy to talk yourself out of it. You might struggle to fight the negativity, however, it’s important to act regardless of your negative thoughts or feelings.
- Make exercise a priority. Exercise is an important form of self-care with so many physical and mental health benefits. Make time for it just like eating, sleeping or brushing your teeth.
- Find an activity that suits you. Don’t force yourself to go to the gym or run if you hate gyms or running. There are many ways to exercise and it’s important to choose something that works for you. For example dancing, gardening, walking the dog, skating, swimming, rowing, running, cycling, yoga, hula hooping, bushwalking, active video games, trampolining, tennis, bowling or team sports. Ideally you’ll find something that you enjoy but if not, do it anyway.
- Join a group or class. This has the added benefits of social interaction and meeting new people. It also helps with motivation and commitment.
- Focus on movement rather than exercise. Children move all day and they don’t consider it exercise. Learn from that.
- Incorporate physical activity into everyday life. E.g. walk up the stairs instead of using the elevator or escalator, walk to work, get off the bus or train a stop early, or get up from your chair and walk up and down on the spot. It doesn’t have to be structured exercise.
- Realise that exercise is not all or nothing. Any exercise is better than none and it doesn’t have to be intense to be beneficial. Exercise according to your level and ability. If you have activity limitations, do what you’re able to do.
- Start small. If you’re new to exercise a five minute walk around the block might be a challenge. Set yourself small goals and gradually build it up in a way that works for you.
- Don’t worry about how you look or what others think. If you’re exercising in public, this might be a genuine concern of yours, especially if you have body image issues, social anxiety, depression or low self-esteem. Realise that people probably won’t notice or care as much as you think. And if they do, so what? If it’s a real problem, you can always exercise in private, and also work on the underlying issues.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Exercise is not a competition, and it’s important to exercise at the level you’re at right now. It doesn’t matter what others are doing.
- Don’t worry about getting it right. The chances are you won’t exercise like a professional athlete. You might be uncoordinated to begin with and you might tire easily. That doesn’t matter as long as you do it. You will only get better.
- Schedule exercise time and commit to it. Write it in your diary or calendar. Having structure and setting goals will help with commitment and creating healthy habits.
- Hire a coach or personal trainer. They can help with the motivation and guidance, especially if you’re struggling to get started, or if you’re not sure what to do.
- Get mental health help. This is particularly important if you have body image issues, depression or anxiety. Although exercise is beneficial it’s not a substitute for professional help.
Most importantly, find an exercise that works for you and focus on creating healthy habits for life. When you exercise, you’ll be healthier and feel better about yourself. Commit to building self-esteem through exercise, it’s well worth the effort.