Why do you hit the gym or go out running? Is it to improve cardiovascular fitness, build muscle, and of course let’s not forget, get an amazing beach body? Probably yes I’m guessing, but have you considered the above the neck inter-cranial benefits? There is a wealth of evidence backing up the theory that exercise increases brain function and helps fight the ever more publicised battle with mental health issues.
Firstly, keeping active can reduce stress (and I can vouch for that!)
Feeling stressed out or not coping well with work or life in general? Something as simple as leaving the office for a 40 minute walk in the fresh air at lunch can make all the difference. Working up a sweat increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress therefore can help manage physical and mental stress and can reduce anxiety sensitivity. Over the years I have trained many clients who pop in to my gym during their lunch break for a quick workout. Likewise I have clients I visit at home, breaking up their work day. They all report the same thing: To get away from their desk and get their body moving (and brain working) does them wonders! W hat’s more is clients constantly feed back to me that they are much more productive and indeed, creative at work after sessions! Unfortunately none have agreed to give me a percentage of their earnings... Yet!
The natural high!
Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. I’ve had countless personal training clients who suffer from clinical depression. (BEFORE meeting me before you ask!) After just a couple of weeks training they all, without fail, back up what all the research indicates. They report alleviated symptoms of depression and anxiety. My advice, pencil in some “me time” where you can go for a bike ride, hit the gym, go for a swim or whatever you fancy. Anything that gets you out of your home or work environment, where you can just shut off to the world and release your inner beast! If that sounds awful to you remember, just 30 minutes 3-5 times a week can instantly boost your mood.
Even at a basic level, knowing you have exercised makes you feel good about yourself. You have done something that benefits you and you’re in control. That’s empowering! Immediately after exercise you can feel your muscles tighten and let’s face it, in a sick and twisted sort of way it feels great to sweat and ache because you’ve pushed yourself! Of course as the weeks go by you will see a physical difference in the mirror. You will stand straighter, walk a little taller and even gain a little bounce in your step. People notice these things will start commenting on how well you look (trust me, they will). This will enhance your self-image and further boost your confidence no end. As the function of your body improves you will find you can achieve more with your body and your quality of life will improve, therefore opening up more possibilities to do things you never would have had the confidence to do before.
Not only one of my favourite films starring the greats Dan Aykroyd and John Candy but a super way getting closer to nature. A place, I believe as a species we are really meant to be. Fresh air, sunshine (vitamin D), wildlife, natural beauty all do amazing things for our state of mind. Becoming dwarfed by nature can help one put their worries and being into perspective. There are so many physical activities you can do outside. Figure out what floats your boat and give it a go. A few suggestions: Team sports, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking.
Keep the brain active with exercise
Something many people don’t realise is that exercise can be (and it’s my philosophy that it should be) taxing on the brain. Challenging the neuromuscular system (brain connecting with the body through millions of nerve endings and muscle fibres) will not only improve the bodies balance and coordination but also the brains ability to send such messages to the body. The great thing is, like a muscle, the brain responds well to being workout out. You feel tired but satisfied! It’s a sad fact but in later years, our brains deteriorate. Aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s kill off brain cells, causing the loss of many important brain functions in the process. While exercise and a healthy diet won’t cure Alzheimer’s, they can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins at middle age. Exercise boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning. So in summary, exercise improves brain functions, better connects brain and body, speeds connection time between brain and body, improves memory and helps maintain healthy brain cells in later life! Exercise not sounding too bad now right?!
Using up all that excess energy and tension in the gym can be extremely tiring. Many of my clients have reported improved sleeping patters due to regular exercise. As a result they are happier the following day and cope better with whatever life throws their way.
The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure. So when a person becomes dependant on drugs or alcohol (or anything else that gives you a perceived feeling of pleasure) you become addicted to the dopamine. Exercise can be a great distraction. Keeping occupied with exercise, doing something you know will benefit you, can help you forget your cravings for a short while. Working out creates a new focus which hopefully becomes a prioritised alternative to substance or alcohol abuse.
Inspire others to feel good about themselves
Over the years I have trained many different people of different shapes, sizes, ages, back grounds and abilities. You name them, I’ve trained them! What I have found is it’s not just the slim, well-toned “gym rats” that inspire others. It’s the older generation striving to improve their strength and mobility. It’s the overweight individuals slogging through sessions to make themselves healthier. It’s the athletes who offer help and support to beginners which inspire and give them something to aspire to. It’s those who (irrespective of physical appearance) are scared to enter the gym, feel intimidated or have anxiety yet still force themselves to do so. You are all amazing! I also have to mention the support groups that organically form without intention in the gym / class / sports / activity environment. I believe these groups are fundamentally important in maintaining good mental health. Exercise breaks down social barriers and friends are made over the common bond of exercise and wellbeing. These are friends that can empathise with you and encourage you on your journey. They are there to pick you up when your mood or motivation dips and make you feel good again. The truth is that anyone who is putting themselves out there and working towards a healthier lifestyle will be inspiring someone else, whether they know it or not. So my advice is not to worry about what you may look like when exercising. You are an inspiration for deciding your own course taking action. That is something to feel positive about.
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