It is fair to assume that a good majority of those who exercise do so to lose weight. They want to shed a few pounds, build muscle, and feel better about themselves. They want to build more confidence and enhance their self-esteem. Many who enter the gym’s doors are simultaneously participating in Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, or some other diet plan. They are goal directed and exercise is just another tool to help them reach their goal weight. Other individuals enjoy exercising and view it as a hobby. They enjoy getting up early and going to the gym. They find it fun to run on a treadmill, to participate in spin class, and to spend time pumping iron in the weight room.
There are also a large group of people who try to avoid exercise like the plague. They make every excuse in the book. “I don’t have enough time”, “I’m too tired”, “I would rather do something fun.” However, what they may or may not know is that exercise is good for a person’s mental and emotional health and overall well being.
The physical benefits of exercise are apparent. Exercise helps a person to maintain a healthy weight, is good for muscles and bones, and enhances the immune system. Exercise can improve brain health, skin health, and memory. Exercise can decrease the risk of heart disease, chronic illness and can add extra years onto a person’s life. Exercise can assist the body in managing blood sugar and insulin levels, thus reducing the risk for diabetes.
The mental health benefits of exercise may be less apparent, but are just as important. Exercise can have a significant impact on anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health conditions. Exercise instigates changes in the brain that can induce feelings of tranquility, calm, and well being. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which further enhances positive feelings. Exercise can serve as a powerful distraction, as it can disrupt negative thoughts and take the mind off of upsetting, anxiety-provoking, or unpleasant things and situations.
Exercise is an effective stress reducer and can help a person to improve concentration, motivation, and moods. Exercise can increase brain chemicals, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which can enhance focus and attention. The release of endorphins can help with mental focus and can instigate the growth of new brain cells, which can help prevent against age related declines.
Exercise can enhance a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem. It can nurture feelings of self worth and help a person to feel accomplished and satisfied. Exercise can help improve energy levels, help and promote sleep, and can improve sexual health. Exercise can help a person to fall asleep faster and to remain asleep for longer periods of time.
Exercise can serve as a positive coping mechanism by deterring people from engaging in bad habits or from using other negative coping skills. Exercise can prevent a person from smoking, drinking alcohol, or using drugs to cope with life’s difficulties. Exercise can also help a person to quit smoking by curbing their cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Whether you love exercise, hate it, or tolerate it, the benefits of exercise are irrefutable.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.