The election of Donald Trump has come as a shock to me. Even though I live in Vienna and am not directly affected by Trumps presidency in the same way my American friends and family are, it is extremely painful to watch how this man is turning a whole country and its values upside down. Every day, my life begins and ends with Trump. In the morning I reach sleepy-eyed for my phone while laying still in bed and read about the latest media scandal. When I go to bed I open the New York Times App one more time to check what has happened.
For a while, I tried abstaining from the news, but I am proud to admit that I have found something that works much better: weight lifting.
A couple of months ago I started a crossfit-similar exercise regimen that is mainly about lifting weights. Kettlebells, bar-bells, push-ups with 10 pounds laying on top of you. It sounds really hard, because it is.
In my first group lesson, I almost blacked out from the fast repetition of exercises, followed by the feeling of throwing up. When the lesson was over and everyone high-fived each other, tears were rolling down my cheeks – a bodily response of relief. But it got better very quickly.
I have never been particularly interested in sports before, and besides the occasional yoga class, they never played a big role in my life. Sports basically meant YouTube Yoga or YouTube Pilates for me. I once started a 30 Day YouTube Yoga Challenge and it took me eight days to get past “Day 4”.
However, I am now completely in love with weight lifting. Not just because it is exercise for my body, but it gives me the piece of mind in a way that yoga never could. Weight lifting turns my brain in a blank slate. Nothing (including sleeping or watching TV) can reach that same level of calm for me than 30 squats with a 26 pound kettle bell in my hands.
While my body is pre-occupied with exercise repetitions and, let’s face it, constant pain, my brain can relax. Whereas in yoga groups you are encouraged to “think about your day and let it all go”, weight lifting doesn’t even get you to this contemplative point. With stretching and staying in the downward facing dog for what feels like hours, my brain was still able to think about Trump’s Muslim Ban or his latest attack on the news media. Yoga might as well have been as well be called “Meditating with Trump.”
Strength training has been associated with increasing brain function in multiple studies. It is said to slow dementia and increase long-term memory function by 10 percent. It also lowers stress, which can accumulate easily these days just by reading the news. Exercise promotes the production of hormones such as norepinephrine, while at the same time lowering cortisol levels significantly.
While Cardio and other forms of exercise still leave some room for you to think about current events, strength training doesn’t. Instead of thinking about alternative facts, or immigration policies, the only things I can really think or rather feel about are “WATER!”, “TOWEL!””, “ONE MORE!”, all in capital letters and exclamation marks.
Since Trump got elected, many people have taken up new habits to personally deal with the constant news, be it going to events, stress eating, or obsessively caring about their nails like Jeanne Vaccaro, a postdoctoral fellow at Indiana University. While this might feel like an overtly personal act of self-care it is also a means to be stronger in order to face the new reality head on. It means dealing with it, instead of hiding from it. Dealing with it also means being active to counteract what is happening: be it going to the women’s march, tweeting or having a very long and complicated conversation with your relative or friend.
Weight lifting helps me with all of that and I am only getting stronger every day.