A few months ago, I was having a conversation about health and fitness with someone who would likely put themselves in the “gym rat” category of human beings, and they brought up an interesting point: not everybody feels so positively about working out. Not everybody enjoys working out, or looks forward to it; in fact, many people dread it. As someone who works out every day but has to nearly force myself to about 50% of the time, I can see both sides. However, I will never let myself stop being active because I have a deeply held belief on the matter; even if your hobbies lie outside of the gym, even if you prefer to spend your time drawing, or watching movies, or playing video games, or even doom-scrolling through Twitter, it’s worth making an effort to bring activity into your life, and you can do so without ever stepping foot in a gym. I firmly believe prioritizing activity is something every person should do. It’s time to change the way we think about exercising.

We’ve all learned in health class somewhere along the line that being active has physical benefits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exercise can reduce the risk of disease, strengthen your bones and muscles and help with weight management. Outside of that, being active also has a plethora of equally important non-physical benefits that all point toward a common goal for everyone: improved mental health. 

Falling into a routine that excludes physical activity is far too easy to do because it’s the beginning of a cycle: once you begin to leave activity out of your schedule, it becomes harder and harder to include it again, and your mental health can suffer because of it. It becomes something that you don’t see as a necessity, and when you finally do it, it’s more of an anomaly than the start of a new routine. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, anywhere from mild to severe, finding the motivation to get up and do something physical seems nearly impossible. The cruel truth is that physical activity is one thing that can deliver nearly instantaneous benefits when it comes to mental health.

A study in the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry states that “lifestyle modifications” that allow room for simple forms of activity have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. If you feel like getting up and being active is one of the most daunting tasks you can think of, try to remind yourself that the more you do it, the better you will feel about doing it again. If you’ve got a planner full of assignments due and think to yourself that you don’t have the time for a 20-minute walk, then this Harvard Health article has an answer to that as well; physical activity is proven to increase focus and memory — so going on that walk would help you get more done that day, instead of the other way around. 

Possibly the most important point here, though, is that the study refers to it as “lifestyle modifications,” rather than exercise, or working out, or whatever else you may call physical activity. This physical activity that can help your all-around health doesn’t have to have anything to do with a gym, and you don’t have to be a “gym person.” All you have to do is take five minutes here and there to stand up and dance to a song while you’re cooking dinner, go for a brisk walk, get out and garden, or shovel snow. No gym membership is required for these things. If you can find the time and motivation to work exercise into your day regularly, you may find that your life improves exponentially. 

You don’t have to be a “gym rat” to live an active lifestyle. You don’t even have to formally “work out.” Changing the discourse around physical activity is a must; it shouldn’t be black and white, either you’re into it or you’re not. It’s a health necessity, and it should be treated as such — just like drinking water and eating well. It’s time to change the mentality around exercise and activity, and it’s time to acknowledge that any time you spend getting up and moving could be the few minutes in the day that turns your life around.