What Are the Benefits of Exercise for you?
When you think about the benefits of exercise, what comes to mind? All too often, people begin or continue an exercise program in order to manage their weight. Approaching exercise with weight loss or weight management in mind, though, can have some unfortunate consequences. Physical activity can become unenjoyable, compulsive, or unsustainable. To develop a healthier relationship with movement, it’s important to access motivation that is more positive, focused on self-care vs. self-attack.
Here are 10 benefits of exercise* that have nothing to do with weight:
1. Exercise improves your health. A regular program of physical activity can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, strengthen your bones, and reduce the risk of chronic illness. Fitness also improves your mental health. Engaging in regular exercise can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and increase self-esteem. Even a single session of exercise can boost your mood (see Rosenfeld, 1996, for Dr. Rosenfeld’s first go at research).
2. Exercise makes you strong. Lifting weight/using resistance can strengthen your muscles, allowing you greater functionality in your daily life (think carrying grocery bags, traveling with greater ease, etc.). A strong physique, beyond any aesthetic, aids in overall functioning.
3. Physical activity can reduce the incidence of injuries. Strong, agile bodies balance better, accommodate trips and falls more adeptly, and bounce back sooner after injury.
4. Fitness reduces the risk of age-related cognitive decline.
5. Physical activity can be social. That tennis game with your colleague, bike ride with your family, or Zumba class with your friends can be fun!
6. Exercise provides an opportunity for mastery. Whether it’s working toward a goal or learning a new skill or sport, exercise can allow us to experience progress over time.
7. Exercise can improve your sex life. Improving fitness can increase desire, arousal, satisfaction, and staying power. Plus, sex is physical activity itself!
8. Movement can be a portal for mindfulness. Whether it’s yoga, swimming, or hiking, many forms of movement facilitate greater presence in the current moment or an opportunity to drift peacefully into our thoughts. Many say that exercise is meditative or that they get some of their best thinking done while they move.
9. Exercise can serve as a distraction from life’s stressors and demands. Focusing on movement can clear our heads of everyday chatter. Attending to speed and distance when we run, counting our reps as we life, or settling into a yoga pose while focused on form, kinesthetics, and breath can provide a temporary respite from our thoughts.
10. Movement, when performed intuitively, is a a way to engage in self-care. Moving our bodies in a way that feels right for them (whether in an invigorating or calming fashion) is a powerful way to take care of ourselves.
*Those in eating disorder recovery or who have previously demonstrated a compulsive relationship with exercise might need to forego these benefits of exercise until they are more stable and able to use movement in a healthy way.