Exercise….It’s Not Just Good for the Body!

“It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” ~ Socrates

One of my good friends detests exercising and will complain if I suggest doing anything remotely active together. Even though it is far from enjoyable for her, she cannot deny that exercising leaves a person feeling awesome and is totally worth the pain and hassle. I personally look forward to my weekly group training sessions with my physical trainer and frequently use these sessions in analogies with my clients.  I enjoy being active; the outlet of physical activity is invaluable. I find it so motivating and empowering when I am able to do an exercise or surpass a weight goal that once seemed impossible. There are a myriad of ways to exercise, and even more benefits that come from moving your body!

Exercise is defined as any movement that makes your muscles work and requires your body to burn calories. The most common include swimming, running, jogging, walking, biking and dancing. There are a million ways to be physically active; one day I will dedicate an entire post to listing as many ways to exercise as I can possibly think of!

For now, I want to focus on the benefits of exercising. Many of these benefits are not visible from the outside as working out affects humans physically and mentally. Here are just some of the ways being active will profit you:

  • Makes you feel happier. Exercise increases the production of endorphins, which help produce positive feelings. This is the feeling my friend who hates exercising admittedly enjoys. You cannot beat that post-workout high! 
  • Improves overall health. There are a million ways exercising benefits a person’s overall health. It burns calories to help lose or maintain healthy weight, as well as aides in the process of digesting food. Researchers say exercising fosters increased hydration and better dietary intake, which in turn positively affect healthy weight. Physical activity–like weight lifting–can stimulate muscle building when paired with adequate protein intake. Additionally, if you are exercising and stretching regularly, your flexibility will improve. This helps prevent injuries. Exercise also increases your heart rate, promoting the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. Another benefit to overall health from exercise is that it serves as a distraction from pain as it reduces your perception of pain. It seems counter-intuitive, but–when done correctly–exercising can be an effective way to manage pain. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, exercising helps maintain vital body functions like breathing and a healthy heartbeat. In short, these overall health benefits combine to provide a prolonged life!
  • Reduces risk of disease. Lack of regular physical activity is a primary cause of chronic disease. Regular exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular fitness and body composition, while decreasing blood pressure and blood fat levels. It can reduce your risk of certain serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and colon, breast, uterine, and lung cancer. Additionally, exercising boosts immunity and decreases your chances of developing (and getting stuck with) more common illnesses, like flus and colds. 
  • Increases energy levels and boosts productivity. Piggybacking off of #1, the endorphins released during exercise also fill you with energy. How many times have you come home from a walk or a game of tennis ready to tackle that pile of laundry or stack of paperwork? Research shows that those who take time for exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their more sedentary peers.
  • Improves mental health. Exercising literally changes the part of the brain that regulates stress. Working out increases brain sensitivity for the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression.  Exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms in people suffering from anxiety. Ever notice that you can start a workout feeling stressed and anxious, and end it feeling good? This is not just in your head. Exercise changes the chemistry of the brain by causing the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps quiet brain activity and minimize anxiety. 
  • Improves sleep quality. By being active during the day, the body is more ready to sleep at night. If you struggle with insomnia or other sleep-related issues, regular exercise is one of the first suggestions to better sleep because your body will be ready to rest. 
  • Boosts creativity. A heart-pumping gym session can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards! It is as if exercising clears your mind and enables you to tap into your full creative powers. Don’t believe me? Try it!
  • Improves sex life. Engaging in regular exercise can strengthen the cardiovascular system, improve blood circulation, tone muscles and enhance flexibility, all of which can improve your sex life.
  • Improves mood and body image. Need an emotional lift? Or need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A gym session or brisk walk can help. Interestingly, it does matter how intense your workout is; your mood will be improved from any kind of physical activity! Exercising will also cause you to experience a boost to your confidence and self-esteem.
  • It’s fun and social! Many of the women in my neighborhood get together regularly to exercise in the morning. This keeps us all accountable, but even more so is that it is fun to work out and strengthens my relationships with them!

With all those benefits to exercising…why are we not all working out right now?! I have experienced most of these benefits firsthand and hope you have, too. Let’s make a goal to start the next week by giving our minds and our bodies what they need…exercise! I wrote a post at the beginning of the summer where I shared some simple ideas to fit exercise into your day. I promise you will feel better for it! As always, if you find you need additional assistance, please contact me. My door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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