Mum was right - how exercising helped me become the best version of myself

I overate so I did not have to overthink, but that was before I discovered the 'post-workout high'

As she does in the middle of a gruelling workout, Fatima Al Mahmoud urges herself on when confronted with a challenge in her professional or personal life. Fatima Al Mahmoud / The National
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If you had asked me a year ago if I wanted to wake up at 6am to work out before starting my day, I would’ve laughed in your face. Now training first thing in the morning is my favourite thing to do.

While I have been working out for a few years now, I was never as consistent or disciplined, and that has made all the difference – not just physically, but on a personal level too.

Going to the gym has, quite literally, shaped my life for the better. Aside from the obvious gains (pun intended), it has helped transform me into the person I perhaps most needed when I was younger.

Let me explain.

When I moved to Abu Dhabi two years ago, I had a tough time adapting. I had left behind family and friends in Lebanon to start a new life in an unfamiliar city. Being an emotional eater, I turned to food to ease my guilt and loneliness. I overate so I did not have to overthink.

Do not wait to fall ill to appreciate your body and mind and what they do for you

To no one’s surprise, I put on weight. And while there are far worse scenarios than gaining a few extra pounds, it took a toll on my already fragile self-esteem.

The solution was obvious; all I had to do was go to the gym and undo the damage. So I did once, twice, again – and experienced my personal eureka moment when I realised it didn't matter what mood I was in when I walked into the gym, I always left feeling good.

“I can’t believe I just did that,” I would think to myself. “Did I really lift that heavy? Did I really run that fast?”

The so-called “post-workout high” is hands down one of the most unparalleled feelings I’ve experienced. The sense of satisfaction after every training session was key to salvaging my self-esteem, and soon enough my workouts were no longer about looking a certain way; they were about getting stronger, fitter, healthier and more able to deal with the curveballs my younger self could not.

So I pushed myself harder and harder, I woke up earlier, I ate better. And I learnt five valuable lessons from what has now become a lifestyle.

1. Showing up for yourself is pivotal

As cliched as it sounds, being your own biggest supporter is all that really matters. Many of us will graciously walk through fire for the people we care about, no questions asked. But when it comes to taking care of ourselves or doing things for our own health and happiness, we don’t have that same drive, when we absolutely should.

2. Discipline trumps motivation

The truth is you’re not going to wake up feeling motivated every day, and that’s OK. Human emotions fluctuate, sometimes you’re up and running, other days you want to do nothing at all. While it is important to honour your feelings, sometimes you need to get up and finish what you’re meant to.

Through discipline, you create habits, habits become routine and a routine can help build the life you desire.

3. What the mind believes, the body achieves

During a workout, it is often at the point when your body is begging you to stop that you should keep going. I remember being out of breath sprinting on the treadmill in a red room class at Barry’s, almost certain I was going to collapse, when I heard the trainer yell: ‘You can do it. This is your last run of the day. Make it count.’ So I went even harder.

Eventually the trainer’s words became my own internal monologue. I often find myself cheering myself on in difficult situations that require mental resilience.

So, as tempted as you are to cave to the voices inside your head telling you to give up, you need to be able to shut them down and change the narrative to tell yourself to keep on walking (or running).

4. The small wins all add up

The thing about seeing results from working out is that it takes time. There are no short cuts (not even the slimming teas and waist-shaping belts the Kardashians sell you on Instagram, but that’s a conversation for another day).

Go to the gym, do yoga, try Pilates, play a sport, ride a bike, run, swim, lift weights, walk 10,000 steps or even 5,000 – just move your body

But whether it’s a new personal record on your dead lifts or a yoga pose you finally managed to perfect, make it a point to pause along the way and celebrate the small wins.

One day you’ll look back and see it’s these baby steps and mini milestones that helped you come this far.

5. Mum was right

I’m stating the obvious here, but not taking your health for granted is an often overlooked truth. Growing up, my mother would always tell me health is wealth. I now fully understand what she meant.

So do not wait to fall ill to appreciate and further your physical and mental health and to honour your body and mind for what they do for you.

Go to the gym, do yoga, try Pilates, play a sport, ride a bike, run, swim, lift weights, walk 10,000 steps or even 5,000 – just move your body to get that natural boost of endorphins. Thank me later.

Updated: November 17, 2023, 6:02 PM