When talking about exercise, it’s difficult to steer the conversation away from weight management. After all, many people start a workout routine with the hopes of shedding a few pounds or as a way to maintain a certain weight. Keeping weight under control can be a positive outcome of implementing an exercise routine. But, there are several other reasons you should hit the gym regularly.
Beyond waist size, the introduction of both cardiovascular exercise and strength training can sharpen and elevate your physical and mental health. We spoke with a certified psychologist, a registered nutritionist, and other medical professionals. Here, they discuss the many ways exercise can impact your body in a positive manner and the importance of focusing on benefits beyond weight loss.
Exercise can help kick a habit.
It’s truly a mind over matter situation when it comes to quitting a bad habit. According to certified addiction counselor Mark Levine, L.I.C.D.C.-C.S., M.A.C., “Finding healthy outlets to replace old habits is crucial for long-term recovery.” Levine recommends regular exercise for all clients and works with them to integrate exercise into their week. “Exercise reduces stress and cortisol levels and leads to an increase in dopamine, something the addicted brain craves,” he says. “Exercise, of course, has the added benefit of leading to looking better. This, in turn,n makes a person who was beaten down in addiction feel much better about themselves. It’s a total win-win.”
Working out can balance your emotions.
The ability to elevate your mood and make you feel happier while simultaneously keeping you emotionally stable is a fortunate side effect of time spent at the gym. “Exercise helps to release the ‘feel-good’ chemicals called neurotransmitters,” says Teralyn Sell, Ph.D., L.P.C., N.C.C., a brain-health coach and licensed therapist. “These chemicals impact our mood and physical functioning. Endorphins released during exercise help us to feel love, attachment, and a sense of contentment.” On the other hand, Sell says, “If our endorphins are imbalanced, we might cry or tear up easily and be easily pained, emotionally and physically, as stress and pain cause endorphin imbalance.”
Unfortunately, “the diet culture of today tends to look at exercise from only a weight loss perspective,” she continues. “But it’s so much more than that! Exercise will help you manage stress and reduce physical and emotional pain through endorphin production. As a healthy side note, once our stress and pain levels are manageable, we tend to lose weight, too.”
Cardio helps you sleep at night.
“If you are one of the millions of people who struggle with insomnia, exercise may be the missing secret you need to help you get a better night’s sleep,” says licensed clinical psychologist Candice Seti, Psy.D., C.P.T., C.N.C. “In addition to using energy, exercise assists in reducing stress, making it easier to turn your mind off and drift off when bedtime comes around.” As the rise of sleeping disorders heightens and people resort to pharmaceuticals, it’s fortunate to know a natural remedy that can help you fall asleep. “Just be sure to get your exercise in early enough in the day. Exercising close to bedtime may rev up energy levels,” she adds.
Gym time keeps your mind sharp.
“Your muscles aren’t the only thing working out when you exercise,” Seti says. “Completing new and challenging workout routines can help to keep your mind sharp and improve your memory recall.” As opposed to the brain-crunching games on your phone, why not dabble in exercise that will make you feel good physically and raise those IQ points a bit?
“Additionally, people who exercise regularly seem to enjoy a protective benefit against the damages of dementia,” Seti continues. In fact, this statistic was confirmed by the National Institutes of Health, summarizing that physical exercise can be used as a preventative treatment for dementia and brain aging.
Working up a sweat is detoxifying.
Next time you spend a large amount of money on a detox drink from your local health store, remember that the body can naturally cleanse and detoxify itself. All you have to do is work up a little sweat. “Increasing blood circulation and sweating heavily can help your body move out toxins naturally and more quickly,” Seti says. “Even better news? Any type of exercise that gets your heart rate up and sweat pouring will help naturally cleanse your body.” In turn, detoxing the body can have parallel effects when it comes to weight loss and management. When the body is full of toxins, the liver function begins to slow down. This can impact your metabolism by increasing its reaction time. So, while you’re consciously detoxifying your body of harmful chemicals and toxins, you’re subconsciously losing weight at the same time.
Routine exercise can balance insulin levels.
Many people believe that unless they have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, they don’t have to pay attention to their insulin level. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The presence of insulin makes the body incapable of burning fat (and ultimately causes weight gain). Plus, it can also lead to the risk of heart disease over time.
Luckily, by working out and eating healthily, you can control your insulin level. (But this may be more difficult if you’re diabetic). According to registered dietitian Summer Yule, M.S., R.D.N., “Physical activity helps the body to use insulin more effectively. Even a single bout of exercise has short-term positive effects on insulin sensitivity. Regular exercise can delay the onset of type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of heart disease. Higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with lower mortality irrespective of body size. So, it is important to get moving for long-term health.”
Keeping a positive and healthy image of yourself, both mentally and physically, is a tricky yet important thing to do. Knowing that it doesn’t come easy and you must work at it every day—especially as it pertains to body image and weight loss—makes it a constant hurdle. The way to overcome this mindset is to change your perception and shift your thinking. When you think of your next workout, remember all the positive changes you’re making for your body—rather than the pounds you’re aiming to lose or keep off.