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Being active is important in terms of managing weight and preventing certain illnesses. This isn’t a revelation. So why isn’t everyone taking part in regular exercise then?
Everyone knows they should exercise, but it’s here where we have the problem: should. Exercise is often seen as something we ‘should’ do or ‘have to’ do to be healthy. Initially, this may be an important starting point, however it can create a negative and weak association with exercise that’s easily broken. A chore-based mentality to exercise might help in the short-term but, on its own, it’s not a long-term, sustainable health fix to an active lifestyle.
For exercise to be incorporated into everyday life, it needs to become an important, benefit-driven part of life. After the initial grumblings, it’s hoped that the physical and mental benefits are starting to be felt and potentially evidenced back to the individual. Eventually, exercise may even become a fun habit and part of a daily and weekly routine. Ultimately, exercise creates a much healthier body and mind.
As a fitness practitioner, it’s this value-driven outlook that needs to be translated to the people under your influence. Fitness buy-in is essential for long-term success.
A huge benefit of exercise is helping to manage stress and feel better mentally. Everyday life can be stressful. It can be overwhelming at times. Have you ever noticed how your body feels under stress?
The muscles in your face and neck tense up, your shoulders and chest get tight, you might get cramps. All this can cause bad headaches, trouble sleeping, stomach ache, no appetite or extra appetite, which then causes further worry and more stress. Not a good cycle.
Stress causes the body to produce the same chemicals as if there were some kind of ‘fight or flight’ emergency. It prepares you for action. Hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline raise blood pressure and increase heart rate. They can also reduce blood flow to the skin and reduce stomach activity. The body produces another hormone called cortisol which causes fat and sugar to be released into the bloodstream, but also reduces the efficiency of the immune system.
The problem comes when there is no ‘action’ to be taken. You might just be sat at your desk, in bed or on your commute. The release of stress chemicals in these instances isn’t helpful. Gone unused, they accumulate in the body and will have a negative impact on mental health over time leading to feelings of strain, worry, poor sleep, exhaustion, and increased risk for health problems such as heart attacks.
This makes it all the more important to be able to manage life’s stresses, the anxieties that crop up and embrace what comes our way with a positive mindset. One way to do this is through exercise. It helps to both keep stress at bay and is also an effective way of breaking stressful cycles.
Regularly taking part in physical activity is an investment in both mind and body. When your body feels better, so does your mind. It can make people feel better about themselves and their appearance and by meeting even small exercise goals, it gives you a sense of achievement, increasing a feeling of self-worth whilst making you feel stronger physically. Importantly, it also helps to physically relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body.
High levels of regular physical activity have been shown to cause higher levels of positive emotions, such as interest, excitement, enthusiasm and alertness compared to people with moderate and low levels of activity. Even unassuming activities such as gardening, dancing and swimming have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. It’s important to note that this isn’t guesswork, these conclusions have been drawn through peer-reviewed scientific studies. Yet still it seems that exercise is an often-neglected intervention in mental health care.
Day to day exercise, or simply being more active, can take many forms – heading to the gym first thing in the morning, a one-on-one PT session on your lunchtime, a fitness class after work or an evening run when you get home. For others it might be as simple as taking the stairs more often, cycling to work or walking to the shops or walking the dog more.
The health benefits gained from regular exercise are vast and widespread. Every health professional should emphasise and reinforce just what an individual can get from exercise. No medicines, lotions or potions, just exercise. Some of the main benefits include, but are by no means limited to:
As a fitness practitioner it’s part of your job to try and instil exercise into a person’s lifestyle for full effectiveness.
Despite what may be a passion yours, the primary motivation has to be internally driven: firstly to actually get started and secondly to maintain a regime over the long term.
This doesn’t mean external influences aren’t important – social circles, friends, family, medical intervention, personal trainers and other professional support really do help to keep motivation high.
Enthusiasm can quickly plummet when something isn’t enjoyable or when there’s a negative experience. This makes it even more important to find a type of exercise or activity to begin with that’s enjoyable. A positive experience means someone is more likely to go back to that type of behaviour. The more likely we are to make exercise a part of our lifestyle the more likely it’s going to stick around. It’ll then feedback into the body’s reward system, creating a positive feedback loop of wanting more.
Stay active 💪