Dr. Meagan Stanley
Instant Physical and Emotional Benefits of Exercise
How making time for a fitness routine can boost your health and mental wellbeing
Now more than ever, we all have to make a concerted effort to move our bodies. Many of our jobs have become more bound to the home and casual outings are less frequent. To add to these challenges, relying on gyms and workout classes has become exceedingly more difficult with most of these businesses temporarily closed, offering reduced hours, or having to adapt by offering classes outside.
As difficult as it may be to find time to exercise amongst the whirlwind that is our new life and schedules, it is vitally important that we all find time in our week to dedicate to working out. The list of health benefits is endless, but here are some immediate effects to keep in mind when the mind starts to convince you to push your workout back another day.
1. Back and spine health. Sitting for prolonged periods of time can wreak havoc on our spine, causing pain and tightness in our hips and lower back in particular. Chronic pain, even minor discomfort, can lead to irritability, shorter temper, and less emotional regulation. To help, try to get up frequently when seated, stretch the back of the legs, hips, and quads, and go on brisk walks.
2. Reduces tension, stress, anxiety, neck and shoulder pain. Our bodies hold on to stress and require an outlet for release. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise help reduce stress and release tension in the body.
3. Curbs hunger and reduces cravings. Not only does exercise distract the mind from fixating on food cravings, but it also calms our nervous system, which will curb any emotional or stress-related eating. A study from the University of Exeter found that even a 15-minute walk curbs chocolate cravings and reduces the amount of sweets eaten (University of Exeter, 2011).
4. Energy and productivity. Exercises increase energy in several ways. Increasing your heart rate and improving blood flow gives the body more energy and also releases “feel good” endorphins. Regular exercise will also help improve your endurance and muscle tone in the long-term.
5. Improves mood and feelings of optimism. Regular exercise increases the brain’s serotonin production, contributing to improved mood, sleep, and appetite regulation. As we know, proper diet and sleep greatly impact how we feel. Exercise has also been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which maintains the neurons in our brain. Studies hypothesize that BDNF is implicated in major depression disorder.
6. Confidence and self-esteem. Being proactive in your health can help you feel more agency and overall self-esteem, while accomplishing fitness goals and seeing progress in how you feel improves confidence.
7. Improves quality of sleep. As mentioned, more serotonin production is related to our sleep quality. Very simply, exercise helps expel energy from our bodies and reduces stress and rumination, which both contribute to how well we fall and stay asleep.
Many of these effects you will feel instantly and notice day-of changes. Some may take a little longer to notice, but within a few weeks, most people feel dramatic changes in their physical and mental wellbeing after implementing a fitness routine. Remember that almost all exercise has benefits, so find something that you enjoy and that nourishes your mind and body.