It’s 9:03 am, Monday, January 3rd. I arrive at the iconic Gold’s Gym in Venice, California, where I’ve worked out nearly every day for the last five years. This is part of my usual routine; get up by six, walk my dog to a coffee shop where I write for an hour and a half, scarf some oatmeal, then work out. These days, my workouts are my treat, my break from the otherwise hectic nature of my day. It didn’t use to be this way. More on that later.
I walk through the various rooms and see that all the regulars are there. We smile at each other through our masks as I walk by. I give a few of them hugs, and we wish each other a good workout.
As usual for this time of year, there are a lot of new faces I’ve never seen before in the gym. I scan the various rooms, wondering who I will see again and who will only make it in a few times before life gets in the way, and they decide that 2022 is not their year to prioritize their fitness after all.
Yet this year, something feels different. Yes, there are still the usual types slogging away on the treadmill, watching the minutes tick away as they hope to burn off the remnants of as many holiday cookies as possible in one go. But aside from the typical weight loss and muscle building goals, many of the newbies I’ve talked to have resolved to exercise not just for physical health or appearance reasons, but because they feel better mentally and emotionally when they exercise.
In the past, this awareness that exercise leads to a better mood and improved headspace is something I’d only hear from people who had long embraced the identity of an athlete. Runners, for example, have long proclaimed that their runs are their primary source of sanity. In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, celebrated Japanese writer Haruki Murakami writes that he runs to acquire a void. That void is peace; it’s flow; it’s a break from the otherwise endless chatter of the monkey mind. And it’s something that most runners and athletes come to crave.