The vast majority of people who venture into a gym (or decide to hire a personal trainer) have one goal in mind: weight loss.
Whether it’s five pounds or 50, they remain fixated on the scale, and gauge their progress solely based off whether it budges (in the correct direction) or not - which can leave some feeling frustrated and even defeated in the cases when it does not!
This is unfortunate, because not only is it entirely possible that your body composition could be changing while you are staying the same weight, there are also a plethora of other benefits (that are arguably more important) to exercise other than simply losing weight.
These benefits all have incredible implications for your mental health, longevity, and sense of well-being, and can all be used to noticeably improve your quality of life!
1. Improved Confidence
One of the most noticeable effects of exercising is increased feelings of confidence and self-esteem, and this isn’t just due to achieving a body you’re happier with!
Becoming competent with equipment in the gym (especially if it was originally an intimidating atmosphere for you), learning what exercises you can do to target specific muscles and energy pathways, and developing better mind-muscle connections to become more in-tune with your body all feels amazing.
Just having the discipline to adhere to a workout program and reap all the health benefits from it often opens up a world of opportunities of what people feel they are capable of achieving!
Additionally, a commonly overlooked source of mental well-being comes from improved posture. Practicing exercises that make you stand up taller have enormous psychological benefits, including a greater sense of confidence and ease when interacting with others.
2. Greater Strength and Endurance
There has to be something said about the simple feeling of getting physically stronger. It’s incredibly empowering - especially for beginners, who are often shocked at being able to double the the weight they are able to lift with only a few weeks of training!
Regardless of whether you’re training for a specific sport or activity, this has huge carryover to the real world, as simple activities such as moving furniture or carrying groceries suddenly become much easier. You feel incredibly capable.
This goes for cardiovascular training as well! Where once you may have looked for any opportunity to avoid moving more than you had to, suddenly navigating around your environment isn’t a struggle anymore. As your body becomes more efficient at using energy, every movement becomes exponentially easier. You might have once groaned at the idea of walking up several flights of stairs, but now you can do it without a second thought.
All of this has enormous benefits for feelings of independence, and broadening one’s horizons for what might be considered possible. Hiking, cycling, swimming, even rock climbing or skiing might change from something you never felt capable of doing, to an activity you’re planning on trying next weekend!
3. Healthier and Less Risk of Disease
The extent of medical problems which can be treated or prevented by engaging in regular physical activity is nothing short of astounding.
The list includes (and this is by no means exhaustive):
Simply put, placing short-term stress on your body better equips it for dealing with all the long-term stress imposed on it throughout the rest of your life.
Exercise has even been shown to postpone and reverse many of the effects of aging, to which the saying “use it or lose it” holds great truth. Constantly using your muscles, organs and brain during exercise sends a message to your body that you still have great need of all of them, thus extending their health and functionality by years or even decades!
4. Decreased Stress and Anxiety
Of all the various coping mechanisms people use for dealing with stress, exercise stands near the top in terms of how beneficial it is for you at a fundamental level.
Simply engaging in one vigorous workout session can have enormous short-term positive effects on mood, as your brain is flooded with feel-good chemicals like endorphins. The “fight or flight” response which is triggered by stress is given an outlet via physical exertion. Feelings of anger, fear and anxiety which were overwhelming several hours ago quickly dissipate, as your body deals with them in the way in which it was designed to.
Additionally, there are also deeper, long-term changes which take effect. Exercise has the incredible ability to promote neurogenesis and help formulate new neural connections over time, which has profound implications on the brain’s ability to control and regulate mood. Depression and anxiety can be significantly alleviated, as your cognitive abilities are sharpened and you feel a greater sense of ease and control over your surroundings.
When it comes down to it, there really is something to be said of the interconnectedness of the mind and body. As your body begins to feel healthier, stronger, and more relaxed, your brain will quickly follow suit. After all, it really is another organ, just like your lungs or your heart!
5. Improved Mental Clarity and Focus
In addition to the improvement and stabilization of mood, exercise also brings a very meditative component.
Focusing on nothing but yourself for an hour is extremely therapeutic, especially if you try to minimize distractions such as texting and looking at your phone throughout your workout. With practice, you get better and better at remaining focused on the exercises you are doing and the feeling of your body as you strive to optimize your movement patterns. The outside worlds begins to temporarily vanish as you engulfed in the power in the present.
As you wrap up your workout, you usually leave feeling physically exhausted but mentally peaceful. You will begin to see enormous carry-over in being able to focus on and overcome any strenuous tasks you are faced with throughout the day, whether they are physical or mental in nature (or a hybrid of both).
The mind really is a muscle, and similar to doing a bicep curl, making the effort to tune out distractions and zone in on what you’re doing helps immensely with your future ability to remain present in the moment and remain unbothered by common causes of stress, anger or worry.
Kat has spent years gathering knowledge on how to achieve the healthiest lifestyle possible (for the body and the mind), from both extensive research and practical experience. She loves to pass it all on to as many people as possible!