The Path to Happiness: Balancing Fitness and Self Care

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Author: This post was written by Sheila Olson, of

Happiness and personal satisfaction should be the ultimate goals of a fitness routine. Unfortunately, a perfectionist attitude and unrealistic expectations leave many people dissatisfied with their results, feeling like they’re getting nowhere despite their ascetic diet and the military-style discipline they apply to exercise.

It’s possible to place too much emphasis on a fitness routine, especially if it leaves no room for an occasional self-indulgence, or time off from a regimen that’d make a drill sergeant smile and nod. Remember, true self-care is about achieving balance, and a balanced life is the way to happiness. So don’t forget the importance of a little pampering now and then as you strive to maintain both mental and physical health.

Get some zen

Although many people think of meditation as something that’s reserved for yoga classes or spiritual gurus, it’s actually a healing practice that has been improving people’s quality of life for thousands of years. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.

Luckily, you don’t have to find a guru or take a class to learn how to meditate. You can create a meditation room right in the comfort of your own home. All you need is a quiet room, perhaps a candle, some soft music, or the sounds of nature. Breathe deeply and slowly, focusing on your breath, the candle flame, or the chirping of the birds. If you find your mind wandering, pause and refocus on your breath again. By making this a daily practice, you can gently start to reduce stress and anxiety.

A realistic diet

A healthy diet is only healthy if you’re able to maintain it over a period of time. There are all kinds of highly restrictive fad diets that ignore the importance of balance, which are impossible to maintain. A poor diet can lead to binge eating, or an up-and-down pattern in which you follow a diet for a few days, then give in and splurge, thereby undoing the benefits of healthy eating. Many nutrition experts warn that such a pattern can be as damaging to your health as eating unhealthy foods every day. The old saying “Too much of anything isn’t a good thing” applies to dieting as well as to other aspects of your lifestyle. If going too far with it means you’ll just end up where you started. What’s the point?

Instead, find a diet that’s manageable and right for you and follow what fitness expert Jillian Michaels calls the 80-20 rule: eating healthy, nutritional foods 80 percent of the time, and indulging yourself 20 percent of the time. That way, you satisfy cravings without giving into them. You need to have a little fun now and then to achieve that all-important sense of balance.

Put the workout clothes away

The same principle applies to exercise. People often give up on their fitness routine because they grow tired of keeping up the pace day after day. Sticking to unrealistic goals is one of the leading reasons people quit exercising. Your mind needs time off just like your body does, otherwise you could wear down mentally and become frustrated and bored with it all. Put your workout clothes away every so often and channel your inner couch potato for a day. Grab your favorite ice cream, or enjoy some pizza and dial up Netflix or Showtime for a few episodes of that show you’re hooked on. A day off once in a while won’t blow up your fitness routine. And it’ll help recharge your mental batteries so you can get back to it with purpose and dedication.

Seek out your social network

What’s the good of all that exercise and dieting if you can’t show off the results sometimes? Pick one night a week to spend time with friends or family. The support and affirmation you get from a social support network are also important to self-care and finding balance. So give the kale a rest and get caught up over a steak and a beer. Hanging out with friends can be as invigorating as your morning run, and it’ll make you feel just as good. It’s also a great way to manage stress and mental health, especially for people in addiction recovery.

Maintaining fitness and good overall health is a lifestyle choice. When it comes to self-care, don’t neglect the need to have fun. You need to feel rewarded for all that hard work and self-discipline.

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