There are numerous reasons why physical activity is so important to our health. We hear the reasons regularly; not only from our caring providers, friends and family, but also from the media and that little voice in our head.
Some of the common reasons to add more movement into you lifestyle include weight loss, muscle gain and overall fitness. Other reasons include preventing or improving health risks like heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illness. Though these are all important and valid reasons, fitness does not always have to be about weight and chronic illness prevention/management. There are many intangible benefits of activity and fitness that are important to keep in mind when starting a program or when exercise feels like a chore.
Physical activity is invaluable to your emotional well-being.
Build confidence (while trying something new)
While reaching an ideal weight is a beneficial goal to work toward, be careful and aware of negative self-talk. Rather than think about the pounds that you may want to lose (or gain), try to create a positive mental work space in order to maximize the experience. Rather than thinking to yourself, “Ugh, I need to go to the gym after work”; try saying, “I am going to feel great after my work out tonight.” Internal talk may be your best asset in times of lack of interest.
If it is the activity itself that does not appeal to you, perhaps it is time to take a step outside of your comfort zone. Take one new class or try a new activity with a trusted friend or family member. Visualize enjoying it before you try it. If it ends up being something that you do not like, simply try something different. Who knows, you may really enjoy it, just like you envisioned.
Alleviate stress and anxiety
Exercise or physical activity not only increases your heart rate; it also increases energy while calming the mind. It stimulates the release of endorphins, which are your feel-good neurotransmitters that often improve mood. Essentially, exercise is meditation-in-motion. Even a low level of physical activity can positively improve your mental health and emotional well-being. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking or swimming) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity (such as running). Consider a combination of moderate and vigorous activity, if that works better for your lifestyle. Keep in mind that exercising within two or three hours of your bedtime might make it more difficult to fall asleep, so plan accordingly.
Speaking of sleep…
One study from the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows that exercise improves sleep quality and mood with adults struggling with sleep issues or insomnia. Interestingly, exercise and sleep have a bi-directional relationship with the results showing that sleep influences next day exercise rather than influencing sleep. That being said, according to the National Sleep Foundation people experience a better quality of sleep and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Inspire yourself and others
While reaping the physical and emotional benefits of physical activity is a great way for you to feel better in body and mind, it may also be very inspiring to those around you. Create a culture of teamwork and support one another with ideas and invitations to exercise together.
Remember: “Inspiring people starts with one person: yourself. If you have the spark of inspiration, you can inspire others. That’s the key”. — Thomas Barta
Kristin Novak, MSN, RN, is Employee Wellness RN lead at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Baron K.G., Reid K.J., Zee P.C. J (2013). Exercise to improve sleep in insomnia: exploration of the bidirectional effects. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 9(8):819-24.