The Many Mental Benefits of Exercise

mental benefits of exercise

The benefits of exercise are well known and in some cases becoming redundant. We all know that regular training can improve heart health, bone density, our hormones, how we look, etc. The list goes on and on and I’m sure you can scour the articles on our website to find any specific physiological changes. But what about the non-fitness related benefits? When I sit down with a client for the first time, I do most of the listening. I like to hear people’s rhymes and reasons for wanting to get in shape, the things that make people tick. As an exercise physiologist, most of my time is spent studying the body’s reactions to certain types of exercise. So I know that a portion of my career will always be dedicated to reading and learning. Getting to hear a person’s M.O. for wanting to get in shape is one of the best parts of my job and not something I can learn from a book. Believe it or not, I rarely hear the same answer twice. After 10 years of working with people, these are some of the benefits that I see shine with clients who reach their goals.

1. Efficiency

In Weight loss for stay at home Moms, I talked about being an intern and my new-found respect for moms who are responsible for keeping the house in order 24/7. Exercise is all about becoming efficient, and I’ve had several clients who became amazed at how much they were getting done each day. Projects that sat on the shelf for an eternity were finally getting knocked out and suddenly people felt like they had more free time than ever before. The answer is pretty simple: cleaning up your diet and getting in shape means that your body is better at processing energy and recovering from stress. You may even notice that you’re sick less (assuming that your diet is balanced). I once worked with a young client who was getting phenomenal results. She was trying to get in shape after giving birth to her third child. Before our usual session, she came to the studio nearly in tears. We went into an office and she confessed that her sister called her “annoying” and told her that “you’re too hyper….you’re doing all this stuff and making others look bad.” Talk about a confidence booster. Of course the client knew that nothing was wrong with her, but the comments were enough to rattle her and make her self-conscious. In the end, she got over it and continued to get in great shape. Months later, her sister actually came to me for some training.

2. The First Timer

Thanks to our information sharing world, I’ve come across different generations of clients. Yes, athletes get complex and very technical workouts, but that doesn’t mean those are the only clients I like working with. Baby boomers have spent decades taking care of others, and they’re now in a position in life to take care of themselves. And trust me when I say that baby boomers love getting in shape. This really hit home for me several years ago. I was working with a client who was in the middle of a transition from where she started. While spending her first month staying relatively quiet and to herself, she was now showing up for her sessions doing cartwheels. In between sets of her session, she was excited to tell me that she had finally had the stamina to clean her garage. She hadn’t touched her garage in years due to fatigue and a lack of energy and she had just cleaned the entire thing in one Saturday. I never thought anything of doing basic household chores, thanks to being blessed with good health. But when a client in her late fifties explained that her garage was untouched for nearly a decade and she could now clean it, it really hit home.

3. Turning the volume down

When is the last time you set a PR in the back squat? Or set a new personal best in running a mile? If you’ve done this, or completed a hard workout, then you know the feeling. Intense workouts tend to turn the volume down on everything else in life. It’s hard to stress over bills or relationship problems when you feel like coughing up a lung doing some intervals. When the workout is over, the day-to-day stressors don’t seem like they’re going to make you pull your hair out after all. I’ve spent the last few years learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. By learning, I mean that I’ve been a sparring dummy for the talented individuals at my gym. I can tell you that life’s worries disappear when some guy is flipping you over his head and locking your joints in submissions. All of a sudden, paying the bills doesn’t seem like such a chore!

4. From Zero to Hero

Some people love lifting heavy weights. There’s something to be said for simply looking at a barbell and thinking “I just lifted that!?” If you ever want to feel like a superhero (or super heroine), learn how to do a clean and jerk. This move requires that you pull a barbell off the floor, rest it on your collarbones, and then launch it above your head. If you watch weightlifting in the Olympics, you’ll see a 100-pound woman launch several hundred pounds above her head. It’s quite an impressive sight. Your boss may give you a bunch of crap throughout the day, but for that one hour you get to feel like a champion. I had the luxury of working with an extremely nice client years ago. She was a bit fragile and had been diagnosed with osteoporosis and she thought she would never be able to lift weights. Fast forward to four months later, and she’s knocking out 95 pounds in the back squat. More importantly, her confidence skyrocketed to the point where she re-enrolled in school to finish her degree.

5. You Time

Training can become something more than what you do to be healthy and can be part of your lifestyle. It becomes just one of those things that you have to do. Keeping a workout journal is probably the best thing you can do – you can log your workouts and keep track of all your success. You can also flip through it and see all the progress you’ve made from day one. But most of all, you become excited to work out. You get into your workouts and the motivation starts to rise to do more, train harder, and try new things. You certainly don’t want to schedule your life around your workouts but it’s nice to have time set aside for something you’re constantly getting better at. No deadlines, no negative co-workers, and no kids nagging you. You know exercise can help you lose weight and reduce your risk for disease. But sometimes those things don’t happen as fast as we’d like. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the other benefits from exercise – the gains that you see may have nothing to do with your body!

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