When my firstborn was one year old I decided to take a “learn to teach aerobics” class at my gym. I learned all about the principles of fitness, the hows of teaching, and got especially good at step aerobics. Within a couple of months, I was a certified fitness instructor. Why I would want to have to exercise for my job–in front of a room full of people, no less–I realize, doesn’t make much sense. But, getting paid to work out, with free babysitting, certainly did!
That was in 1997, but, over the years, fitness has continued to be a specialty of mine; in fact, my doctoral degree emphasis is “Health Psychology”. My background in fitness always comes in handy, both professionally and personally, as it helps me keep myself mentally and physically strong so I can help others do the same. I am a firm believer in (and practicer of) exercise, and love helping others get “fit,” lose weight, become healthier–physically, mentally, and emotionally–and feel happier through regular exercise.
The Benefits of Exercise
Most people start exercising as a physical fitness goal–usually to lose weight, improve physical health, or tone up. And this is great. But, many are unaware of the incredible mental health benefits to be gained through regular exercise. As I like to say, “We start exercising for the physical benefits, but we keep exercising for the mental benefits.” I know that’s how it has been for me.
Physical Health Benefits of Exercise
First, let’s check out just a few of the physical benefits of regular exercise:
- Weight loss and weight control
- Increased muscle strength and muscle mass (which helps burn calories and fat)
- Increased energy
- Improved flexibility and movement
- Lower risk of some types of cancer (Exercising at least 4 hours per week has been shown to lower risk of breast cancer by 37%!)
- Reduced risk of Diabetes 2 and metabolic syndrome
- Improved immune system, for overall better health
- Increased “good” cholesterol to keep blood flowing smoothly
- Lower risk of a heart attack and stroke
- Helps smokers quit with higher success rates
- Strength training & weight-bearing exercise (like walking, jogging, etc), promotes stronger bones (which is particularly helpful for women entering menopause, when bone density is lost)
- In short, Exercise can increase your life expectancy by an average of 7 years! (One study in New England Journal of Medicine showed that asymptomatic women who weren’t fit had twice the risk of death than those who were fit!)
Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
Countless research studies show that exercise has incredible benefits not just for physical health, but for all areas of health, including mental, emotional, intellectual, and yes, even social well-being. Check these out, for a start!:
- Regular aerobic exercise increases levels of seratonin and dopamine in the brain, which is linked with improved mood
- Aerobic exercise increases endorphins, or the “feel good” chemicals in the body, improving mood and energy
- Exercise enhances the mind’s ability to withstand daily hassles and stressors and to regulate itself
- Research shows exercise can alleviate symptoms of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome and Depression in women
- Regular exercise has been shown equal to antidepressant use in treating Major Depressive Disorder
- Exercise is associated with deeper relaxation and better quality of sleep (which protects the brain and increases energy)
- Strength training has been shown to decrease tension and worry in the body and mind
- Studies show exercise reduces/treats and may prevent anxiety and panic attacks
- Exercise increases mental clarity and efficiency
- Improves cognitive functioning in middle age and beyond
- Exercise is associated with better thinking, learning, and judgment
- It can help you tap into intuition and creativity
- Exercise increases assertiveness and enthusiasm for life
- Studies show exercise leads to a higher quality sex life
- Group or partner exercise increases social activity and decreases feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Those who exercise regularly tend to have a better body-image
- Regular exercise is associated with higher self-esteem
- Overall, exercise is one of the best ways to improve happiness and life satisfaction
Be sure to check out Dr. Hibbert’s Amazon Bestseller, This is How We Grow–
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Mayo Clinic: Exercise: 7 Benefits of Physical Activity
Americal Psychological Association: The Exercise Effect
Sichel, D. & Driscoll, J. (1999). Women’s Moods: What Every Woman Must Know About Hormones, The Brain, and Emotional Health, pp. 113-114.
Northrup, C. (2006). The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical & Emotional Health During The Change.