I hopped on my bike and hurried to our local college, about a mile away, carrying my well used racquetball racquet in one hand.  I was 13, and eager to compete with guys twice my age.

When I arrived I quickly searched for an open court or at least someone to challenge.  Usually on weekends the courts were filled and people were waiting to play.  Since I was a good player it wasn’t long before someone asked me for a challenge.

Cutthroat. That’s what they called it. It was a competition between 3 opponents.  I warmed up for a few minutes as I sized up my challengers.  I was there to win.

After hours of playing in the hot sun and exhausted, I always left satisfied, with more energy than when I arrived, and happy.  All the anxiety I may have felt before was stripped away.  I realized exercise made me feel good! Was it the intensity, the competition or the camaraderie that did the trick?  It was all of it.

There are plenty of studies showing positive effects from all 3 of these on our mental state.  Initially it was the competition that got me out there – playing to win.  This was motivating but after meeting people and sharing stories I looked forward to the friendships more than the competition.  It’s well known that the camaraderie from a group sport has the same positive effects as exercise.  We all know hanging out with friends laughing and telling stories makes us feel good.

Making this connection at such a young age allowed me to find resolve of my stress and anxiety over the years.  I rely on it today.  I teach it with enthusiasm in my wellness classes and encourage others to exercise and find group activities.

Now go out and exercise!  Have some goals like walking or running your first 5K to stay motivated.  Find a group like AQLife and FivePeaks Training Group to exercise with, stay challenged, and laugh; it’s rewarding and relaxing.