It is no big secret that exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, but a lot of people don’t make a trip to the gym part of their daily or even weekly routine. I get it: life can be overwhelming sometimes. We get caught up with school, work, friends, taking care of kids, etc. But besides looking and feeling good, there is a big benefit of exercise that a lot of people don’t think about: Confidence. Being confident in yourself can help you leave your comfort zone, improve your mental health, and lead you to a better life. The most successful people I know all spend hours a week competing in sports, lifting weights, swimming, running, and doing other physical activities. I could write about some of these people, but let me give you my personal story. Let me tell you about how exercise led me to increased confidence and an overall better life.
I was an introvert growing up. I loved playing video games and was generally pretty shy. I was more of a nerd than I wanted to admit, but I liked doing things outside with my friends when the weather was nice. I grew up in Western New York, where the winters are long and brutal and summer is pretty short. I played soccer as a little kid, played basketball in 8th grade, and ran track as a sprinter in 11th grade. My teenage years were definitely an angry and frustrating period of my life: even though my dad had bought me a small weight bench (I was trying to bulk up for 8th grade basketball), I still had a lot of pent up anger and stress. I had a few bullies growing up and got into fights because of it. I was mad at these kids because they acted like they were better than me, but I also didn’t have much confidence in myself. Then the defining moment came when I was 16 years old: one day I was sitting in the car with my family and I heard a radio ad for a new MMA gym that was looking for members.
I had watched a movie about MMA that same year: Never Back Down. I absolutely loved this movie and it had a pretty dope soundtrack. I thought the main character and his antagonist were so cool. For my Christmas present that year I begged my mom to buy me a membership for this new gym, and she finally agreed. I went and was immediately hooked. I loved learning new submissions, take downs, and strikes. I got my ass kicked a lot at the gym, but I didn’t mind. It was all a learning process and there were some tough guys who trained there. Plus, I was the youngest member of the gym. I remember a specific day, about 5 months into my training, that a new guy showed up. This guy was at least 40 lbs. heavier than me and I made him tap out in less than a minute. And those verbal bullies I mentioned earlier? They disappeared once the word got around school. Some even tried to be my friend. But the most important lesson here is that I had gained something more valuable than gold: confidence.
I trained 2-3 times a week at that gym for almost 2 years. Then I got caught up in college, work, etc. and never went back regularly. But the confidence never left me. Now I go to my local gym at least twice a week and make sure I push myself hard every time. Even on weeks where I work overtime or have plans with my friends, I make that commitment. I like to throw some variety in my exercises by going to the community pool or a long, scenic walk. It helps that I now live in Florida and the only bad weather is during the summer, when there’s either a lightning storm going on or it’s so hot that it feels like you’re in a giant sauna, but I’ll take that over snow and ice any day.
Going to that gym taught me all the benefits of exercise and how critically important it is to have confidence and push yourself to new heights. It also gave me a new level of respect for anyone who competes in combat sports. Like I said before, the correlation between exercise and confidence is very clear. I feel great about myself when I work hard and push myself to new physical and mental limits. Maybe an MMA gym isn’t your cup of tea, but please go out and find something that gets your blood pumping and your heart rate up. Do something that makes you sweat and releases those endorphins into your system. Find your confidence and maintain it. I promise it’s worth it.