Written by Melinda Nicci, Sport Psychologist and Founder & CEO of Baby2Body
Raise your hand if you’ve been here before: your workout clothes are neatly folded in your gym bag, you’ve remembered to pack your sneakers, socks and a hair tie, and you’ve blocked off your schedule for a session at the gym – but you don’t actually make it there. Somewhere along the line we find that momentarily justifiable reason for not hitting the gym, or skipping out on that spin class, or passing on a strength training circuit. More often than not these excuses are a product of our own negative thoughts – maybe we’re too tired, or too busy with work, or too out of shape. Here’s the secret about working out: the hardest part isn’t always that peak moment when your heart rate is upwards of 150, or when you’re trying to push through that last repetition… the hardest part is sometimes just overcoming these negative thoughts, lacing up, and getting out there.
This first step is without a doubt a mental exercise. But the beauty of it is that when you do overcome those negative thoughts and actually get started with your workout, you’ll be rewarded for it by how good it makes you feel. My biggest motivation for exercise is that rush of positive energy that washes over me when I’m finally in the middle of a workout. I feel focused and in the moment, and I’m able to let go of my daily stressors and gain strength for tackling new challenges. To me, exercise is all about that personal empowerment and feeling in control of your body, your actions, and your health.
My inspiration for becoming a Sport Psychologist and was rooted in this intersection between our psyche and our physical fitness, and how motivation and positive reinforcement connect the two. There is an incredible synergy between the body and mind when working out. While the physical benefits are clear when it comes to exercise, the emotional benefits tend to be less emphasised, but they are both so important to the fitness experience. That’s why I want to share the top 5 ways that exercise can make you happier – so you can enjoy all of the benefits of exercise, from a healthy body to a happy mind.
It has been shown that regular exercise can treat depression as effectively as most anti-depressant medications. How so? Exercise releases endorphins (the feel-good hormone) and spikes brain activity that is believed to be directly related to positive moods and rewarding feelings. In fact, studies have shown that regular exercise programs have longer-lasting effects on alleviating depression than medication.
Exercise also acts as a natural muscle relaxant, which can release pent-up tension in areas such as your neck and shoulders – an area where many people hold stress. Reducing this tension can actually lessen feelings of anxiety that we associate with manifested physical stress.
Insomnia affects about 1 in 3 people, and even if the effect is minor it can have major consequences for your mental health. Exercise is a natural and effective way to defeat those nights lying awake in bed. The more active you stay throughout the day, the better you’ll be able to sleep at night.
Another surprising benefit is that exercise has a huge impact on the efficacy of your memory and concentration skills. The release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, all play a part in retaining information and improving focus.
Unfortunately as we age, our cognitive abilities begin to lessen, and can accelerate into more serious issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. However there are ways we can reduce our likelihood of developing these diseases – exercise is one of them. Keeping our blood-flow strong and regulating the release of neurotransmitters keeps your mind active and helps to ward off potential illness.
Remember, exercise can come in all different shapes and sizes, whether it’s running, walking, yoga, spin class, kickboxing, dance, or playing a sport. Ultimately, if you’re staying active every day and getting your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes, you’re doing it right. Make exercise all about enjoyment – from feeling good to thinking positive – and you’ll reap all of the benefits.