Exercising Your Invisible Muscles

Exercising our muscles through endurance and strength training supports our health in a number of ways. Muscle toning benefits mental health, quality of sleep, heart health, maintaining a healthy weight, cognition, and longevity. We rely on muscles not just for everyday functioning and movement, but for breathing (the diaphragm is a muscle), carrying groceries, picking up toddlers, skimming stones across a lake, skiing, looking left and right, chewing - essentially, all of life requires some form of muscular tone and strength. And it's relatively simple to understand this concept. You can visualize a muscle flexing or extending. But what if we take it a step further and consider the idea of exercising our emotional muscles.

They may be invisible to the naked eye, but our emotional muscles, our beliefs, and behaviors, deserve equal attention. We strengthen emotions and behaviors like grit, resilience, optimism, gratitude, kindness, and hope through self-care (that's number one), practice, and openness. 

Similar to a physical muscle adapting to stress, we develop resilience as a result of adapting to and responding positively to stress or struggle. Overcoming hardship, bouncing back and engaging in life following a major stressor or disappointment certainly isn't easy. It is not an overnight "fix.". Just like we don't go from never running to running a marathon in a day (or a week or a month), building resilience is a process. 

Several studies have shown that having a "moral compass," or a set of inner values, helps build resilience. A sense of morality and values lend purpose to our lives and that encourages resilience as well. 

Movement encourages the positive expression of not only resilience, but also optimism, gratitude, grit, and hope. Exercise helps relieve stress and boosts our mood. It builds self-confidence, another very important emotional muscle. 

Goal setting is awesome, multi-tasking is not so awesome. Setting goals is a great way to exercise our emotional muscles, especially when we tackle them one at a time and are able to cross them off, one at a time. We want to set lofty, yet attainable goals so that we don't burn out the "muscle" in our effort to build it. 

Spend time with others that reinforce your positive behaviors and encourage your emotional vulnerability and reason for being. Build a community of supportive individuals with similar morals and values who will lift you as needed and cheer you on. Healthy relationships challenge us to become better, stronger versions of ourselves. 

And finally, exercise mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness practices help decrease stress, improve mood and cognition, improve resiliency. Recommended reading to learn more about practicing mindfulness is: Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness by Susan Smalley and Diana Winston. 

The bottom line is this: Feeling good physically AND mentally/emotionally takes practice. It takes work. And it takes commitment. We must use all of the gifts we have been given, put them to work, share our gifts, and exercise gratitude while we become even more grateful.

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