Finding the motivation to go to the gym, or go running or cycling or whatever type of exercise you’re in to, can be difficult sometimes, we all know that. We’ve also all see the quotes that the fitness influencers throw at us like; “when you need motivation, remember why you started” and such. But, why do we place so much emphasis on the starting reason being looks? Why is it so often about “improving the way our bodies look?” To me, this is an incredibly negative way to start an exercise regime and there’s only so long you can hold a negative mindset and except positive results.
So, here are (just a few) incredible benefits of exercising that have absolutely nothing to do with the way you look.
1. Boost Your Brain
It’s becoming more and more documented that exercise can help improve your mental health. Thankfully many Doctors are now prescribing exercise more than medication to help people deal with depression, anxiety and other mental issues that so many of us face in the world today.
It’s all chemical; our brains are a very (very, very, very) complicated thing, and completely fascinating at that, but, changing levels of hormones can affect absolutely everything in our bodies and minds. Many mental pressures have been attributed to a lack of certain hormones in our brain and can lead to long-term mental illness. Shown to be as effective for mild depression and anxiety as medication has, exercise produces endorphins (our happy hormones) and can help to monitor the presence of other hormones in the blood stream. It will promote neural growth within the brain and reduce inflammation in the brain tissues – which can help keep the brain functioning at a high capacity.
Providing more mental energy, better hormone production and a reduction in feelings of sadness, stress and anxiety, even ADHD. It’s no longer about simply using exercise as a distraction method, although this can also be beneficial to combat life’s stresses, paying attention to the effects of exercise while you train can help promote longer-term effects.
Interrupt the flow of constant worries through your mind by exercising mindfully – meaning you pay attention to how you feel at the time (maybe not how out of breath you feel on the treadmill) but other things, like the sensations in your muscles, the sights and sounds of where you are, are good examples. Along with mindfulness, the effects of exercise on hormone stability and balance can improve your concentration, motivation, focus, and even your memory. Exercising mindfully has also been linked to helping improve brain function in people who suffer trauma or PTSD, by helping to provide different streams of thought and focus for the mind.
It doesn’t need to be a full on sweat sesh 7 days a week either, if you’re feeling stressed then some lighter exercise can reduce tension in the muscles, reduce feelings of anxiety and reduce any effects of stress such as headaches or muscle injuries. Moving your body just 15 minutes on a few days a week can have the above effects start working in your body and brain.
You don’t have to be struggling with your mental health to see the benefits of exercise on your brain function; it can help in our every day working life too. With an increase in memory function, concentration and focus you can decrease procrastination (we could all use a bit of that sometimes I bet), increase productivity, improve mental sharpness (meaning you’ll have more great ideas faster) and boost feelings of job satisfaction.
2. Fight Disease
Sometimes when I work with clients they often tell me that they don’t need to do any cardio (cardio exercise being running, jumping rowing – anything that is focussed on stressing your heart and lungs). However, I always tell them differently. Do you know why? Because even if you’re not planning to run a marathon next year, you need cardiovascular exercise in your life.
Cardio exercise is anything that drives your heart rate up, increasing your breathing rate and sweat rates (technically could be a serious bout of house cleaning, your weights session and maybe even watching a nail biting season finale) but, we need it to keep our cardiovascular system healthy and fighting fit – heart, lungs and blood vessels primarily. Boosting cardiovascular function by adding regular exercise into your week can help prevent heart disease, decrease your chances of a stroke and many other blood pressure, cholesterol and heart related illnesses that can seriously reduce your life expectancy and quality of life. In fact, exercise is the best way of reducing these things from a young age. Also, lifting your heart rate regularly through cardio exercise will also lower your risk of diabetes – which is a disease that can cause loss of limbs.
At a young age, exercise can reduce the likelihood of developing these debilitating conditions but you don’t have to be under 30 to see the benefits. Older populations, even those who already suffer with blood pressure related conditions, can see a huge improvement by adding some cardiovascular exercise to their routine. No need for a long 40-minute run everyday either, when it comes to heart heath, even one workout will help. Regular workouts will obviously have a much longer effect but they can be soft gentle exercise right up to training to be the box jump champion of the world (I wonder what that record is…). Those with a family history of heart disease, stroke or heart attacks already have an increased risk of developing them themselves, if you live a sedentary lifestyle as well; your risk is again doubled. Just like for boosting brain function, a small amount of exercise a few days a week can see you reap the benefits of a healthier heart, better lungs and improved oxygen delivery systems.
Exercise is now being prescribed by Doctors as a great treatment for asthma, cystic fibrosis and a number of other breathing related difficulties too. We are extending our life capacity and improving the quality of our lives through exercise – even though it may not feel like it whilst you are at spin class.
3. Bye Bye Problem Periods
Ok so this one is technically strictly for the ladies amongst us, but who isn’t going to benefit from women having less painful and less stressful periods?
The undisputed number 1 way to prevent period pain is…..regular exercise! If that doesn’t make you sign up for a gym membership then I don’t know what will. Women who lead more sedentary lifestyles have been shown to have heavier and more painful periods than those who exercise on a regular basis. So ladies, no more excuses, get that lovely body moving.
It’s the Oestrogen in our bodies that cause the lining of the Uterus to build up during our cycle, the more it builds up the more there is to be removed during your period (your blood flow). Meaning that an excess of Oestrogen present in the body is going to cause our Uterine lining to build up more and cause a heavier menstrual flow. Adipose tissue (body fat) has a higher Oestrogen content so, if our bodies have a higher fat content we are more likely to have a heavier menstrual flow. The fat loss that can result from exercise means that we produce less Oestrogen during the first part of our cycle, build up less of a Uterine lining and therefore have a lighter flow, giving us shorter, weaker periods.
Prostaglandins are the (less than friendly) substance that cause our Uterus to contract and cramp. The hormonal changes that we see during exercise can reduce the level of Prostaglandins present in our body and therefore reduce the amount of contractions and cramps we feel during our periods. Basically, the less contractions and cramps, the less pain we feel. Yaaay! Lighter and less painful periods, win win.
4. Beat Dementia
Maybe you’re in your early 20’s and you’ve never even given dementia a second thought. Maybe you’re in your 50’s and starting to think about it, maybe you’re any age and have a relative that you watched go through dementia. Regardless, dementia can strike anybody when we get into our golden years and it can be debilitating for those with it and those around it. However, you guessed it, regular exercise can help. As mentioned earlier, exercise can boost memory function and improve the neural pathways associated with accessing memory and converting short term into long-term memories (contrary to that excellent movie, there are no multi coloured little cartoon characters doing this for us), along with improving brain cell growth and survival. You may not know that high blood pressure; high cholesterol, heart disease and strokes are also associated with a higher risk of developing dementia. So heed the advice above and protect your heart to protect your brain.
We all experience a loss of brain tissue as we age but those who have led a more active lifestyle show less brain cell damage and loss than those who live a more sedentary lifestyle. For those of you that know somebody suffering with dementia, exercise can still help activate their memory function, reduce anxiety surrounding the condition and help to develop routines within the brain to keep the neural pathways active.
5. Better Sex
Did anybody else jump up and do 10 spontaneous burpees just from reading that subheading?
To make up for the period section gents, I’m here to tell you that regular exercise is akin to a natural Viagra and is associated with risk of fewer erectile issues and an increased sexual desire. Increases in cardiovascular effectiveness and endurance that come from regular exercise have also been noted to improve overall performance intensity.
Ladies along with this, you can expect an increase in your arousal levels if you exercise regularly, and an increase in sexual satisfaction (even if your man doesn’t exercise).
Again, much of this can be put down to a chemical effect within the body – the increase of testosterone produced through regular exercise boosts sex drive in both men and women.
(Side note, sex burns approximately 3-4 calories per minute, depending on intensity. Just saying!)
There’s no need to go back and double take (except for fun), I really have just told you that you can feel happier, excel in your career, no longer have period pain, improve your life expectancy and have better orgasms by going to the gym. Just 5 of the amazing, life altering effects of exercise that don’t have any concern with how your body looks.