Exercise has become a four-letter word in many people’s vocabulary because it is equated with hard work, boring workouts and eating like a canary. That’s probably why we all have an aversion to it.
Exercise doesn’t always have to mean that you put on your favorite sweat pants, a T-shirt extolling that you are a ‘gym rat,’ and donning a new pair of running shoes. Exercise can be simple things that you include in your life such as vacuuming, gardening, walking, doing yard work and, yes, even having sex.
In my 21-day program to better health and fitness habits, I have been thinking a lot about why I tend to avoid ‘workouts.’ In general, I think, none of us try to avoid working out, it’s just that we have life to contend with that often interferes with our best intentions.
‘Life’ can be any number of things including washing clothes so that you have something clean to wear at your workouts (and to work), getting the kids ready for school, making breakfast, getting an unexpected phone call from a friend or business associate. The list goes on and on.
Studies show that we should exercise for 20-30 minutes a week for a minimum of three times a week. Exercising five times a week is even better. What we often tend to overlook are the benefits of exercise and how it makes us feel afterward.
Regular exercise has been proven to:
- Reduce stress
- Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression
- Boost self-esteem
- Improve sleep
Exercise also has these added health benefits:
- It strengthens your heart.
- It increases energy levels.
- It lowers blood pressure.
- It improves muscle tone and strength.
- It strengthens and builds bones.
- It helps reduce body fat.
- It makes you look fit and healthy.
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
This feeling of euphoria is the dirty little secret that keeps many people going back to the gym. For many of us, it goes unnoticed. But I have been keeping track and here are some of the benefits of getting exercise, whether it’s cleaning the house, going for a 20-30-minute walk, or going to the gym to work out:
- Clearer, more efficient thought process, which helps me accomplish tasks quicker.
- More energy. Now this one seems to be counter intuitive because you would think you would have less energy after a workout.
- A sense of accomplishment. When you acknowledge that you did a workout, no matter if it was at the gym or at home or work, you feel better about yourself. It boosts you self-esteem.
- Your body’s metabolism increases and helps keep the weight off.
As I write this, its winter and freezing cold outside. Just the thought of getting outside to exercise makes me shiver. For me, cold, dreary weather increases my feelings of anxiety and depression. Some days I just want to curl up on the couch and watch TV and drink hot cocoa.
But I’ve learned that if I do as little as 15 minutes of exercise such as curling dumbbells, jogging in place, jumping jacks or even some yoga or stretching, I warm right up and start feeling better.
So, until someone figures out a way to bottle up those endorphins and sell them to us in the form of a happy little pill or dietary supplement, try this experiment during your next three workouts:
- Write down how you feel before your start getting your body moving.
- Drink plenty of water and make sure you do at least 15 minutes of sustained activity to get your skin glowing with light sweat.
- Then go shower or bathe, put on some fresh clothes and sit down for one minute and write how you feel now.
Go ahead, try it. I just did it and I feel great! It gave me the energy to write this after I wrote that I felt sluggish and mildly depressed because of the gloomy cold weather. Right now, I feel happy — excited even — for my next workout. Remember — track your feelings before and after three workouts and see if you don’t spot a trend to better mood, more energy and a slight feeling of euphoria. 🙂
Here’s a link to an article on the link between exercise and depression on WebMD. Some of this blog is based upon information in this article.