We all know that regular exercise is good for our physical health. Decades of research has consistently found that those who engage in moderate to intense activity, at least 3-5 times each week, are significantly more likely to enjoy health and wellness. More specifically, regular exercise helps with weight control, reduces risk of cardiovascular disease and it can even prevent certain types of cancer.
What many don’t know, however, is that regular exercise also has many other, “non-physical” benefits.
To list just a few, physical activity improves sleep (which is definitely something that Tracey noticed in Fitness First’s #howfitfeels experiment), energy levels, mood and notably, has increasingly been found to be one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to combat stress and depression, as well as promote positive emotions such as happiness. And there is a myriad of other benefits as well.
In 2007, for example, Israeli investigators showed that even just one hour of aerobic exercise improved executive, cognitive functioning. Local researchers, from Macquarie University’s Department of Psychology, also found that the taking up of a regular exercise program significantly improved self-regulatory behaviours. And earlier this year, a group of researchers from Germany’s Institute of Sports and Sports Science found that regular aerobic exercise increased the capacity of participants’ ability to manage real life stressors.
Other studies have found that regular exercise improves body image (a gain most definitely appreciated by Alisha, another of the participants in the #howfitfeels experiment) and that it can be an important adjunct to other effective interventions for depression; and if that weren’t enough, it contributes to people living longer, and better!
Sadly, however, the 2011 Census, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, revealed that around six out of ten Australian adults did not meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity. If you think this sounds bad then it could, in reality, be even worse. World Health Organisation exercise guidelines have been brought into question by new research from the University of Queensland that showed we needed five times the recommended activity for a significant reduction in risk.
So in short, although exercise has been found to have numerous benefits, few people are doing enough of it to enjoy the positive consequences. Why is this?
Well, like many complex issues in life there are almost certainly multiple reasons; but one of the more common, I’ve found, is that too many people focus too much of their energy on the physical gains. And further, too many people set their expectations and goals way too high, expecting far too much too quickly. This is why a significant proportion of people who join gyms stop going after just a month or two; because they don’t see the sort of gains they were expecting to see. But again, their expectations, more often than not, are unrealistic and increasingly fuelled by social media images that present unattainable ideals!
There is, however, a solution. And I believe the solution lies in focusing more on how exercise makes us feel; putting more emphasis on the non-physical benefits that flow from regular exercise.
Do you want to live your best possible life? Then exercise will provide you with the energy you need to do what you want to do!
So rather than aiming for abs and biceps, aim instead for more happiness and zest. Rather than focusing on how much you weigh, enjoy instead gains in how good you feel. Track your mood and your sleep and even your performance at work and there’s no doubt, the gains you realise will spur you on to a bigger and better life!