I talk a lot on here about the benefits of working out – weight training in particular – but one often ignored benefit is the power that exercise has on our emotional well being.
While exercise in itself is technically a stressor (intense exercise causes elevations in cortisol, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) – it can provide a ton of anti-stress effects and feelings to give you some pretty awesome benefits.
It has been found in numerous studies that even just 5 minutes of physical activity can decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. I’m not claiming that a quick 5 minute run with make all your problems go away, but it might make you feel better.
So how does this all work? Is it from that feel good rush of endorphins we get? Maybe not…
When it comes to the “old” field of thought, exercise will increase your brains endorphins (your bodies endogenous – internal – opioids). However this is little evidence to support that this is a significant amount and we don’t see many hardcore gym goers looking like they are strung out on heroin.
Now many may say that they feel a “rush” of energy or improvements in mood during exercise – while exercise may increase endorphins slightly, the main reason we feel better during a workout is much more physical rather than hormonal – you are just moving, and the body is meant to move! Exercise increases blood flow, oxygen flow, and damn it just feels good to feel your body improving your time or weight lifted.
What has been proven – and is pretty neat, is how exercise helps improve your mind OUTSIDE of the gym
Exercise is technically a stressor on the body – it elevates cortisol – and the more intense the exercise is, the more elevation you get.
Just like training might be a form of practice for a sport or activity, training is also a form of practice for your bodies ability to handle stress outside of the gym.
Along with cortisol being elevated, the hormone norepinephrine (NE) rises as well. This is the hormone that is the target for elevation for most anti-depressant drugs. When NE rises, it forces the bodies systems (cardio, renal, muscular, nervous) to communicate better with one another, and manage stressful situations more efficiently.
So by exercising and increasing our NE during exercise, we are training out body to handle rises in cortisol more efficiently outside of the gym, and from our regular everyday stressors.
Now here’s a curveball…
As I have noted before, too much intense exercise (especially coupled with extreme dieting) is a big no-no and will only lead you down a path of wrecked bodies and hormones.
There is a popular quote out there that says something like “The Only Workout You Regret is The One You Missed”.
While this sounds badass and motivational, it’s wrong to a certain point.
The workouts you regret are the ones where you didn’t listen to your body and guilted your self into doing some crazy high intensity workout while going off of 3 hours of sleep, no food, and in a severely dehydrated state. You don’t get a medal of honor for being a tough guy or gal in this case – you get a weakened immune system, a possible injury, and a body overwhelmed by stress.
To get the stress relieving benefits of exercise you need to train – but it has to be smarter, and not harder.
1) Workout’s are only as beneficial as your recovery.
if you aren’t sleeping enough, not eating enough, and not taking time to just chillax a little bit, you will not be getting much out of your workouts, and only setting yourself up for more frustration. People need to start listening to their bodies more. If you know you are tired, and underfed – go for a 30 minute walk instead of doing the latest 100 Burpee Challenge (the worst thing ever invented).
You will be fine, you will feel better, and you will be better prepared for your next actual hard session.
2) Exercise is VERY Important…but isn’t for weight loss.
Stop counting your calories burned from exercise. Read that again. Yes, a trainer is telling you this.
When we put the stress of “I’ve gotta burn X calories” we take the fun out of training. Here’s a buzzkill – your calorie burn trackers are inaccurate anyways.
Exercise has so many amazing benefits, but as a primary source for weight loss it’s a terrible idea and its a trap that many gyms like to sell people on…
Exercise is for health, strength, fun, stress relief, social interaction, longevity, vitality…but not weight loss.
3) Have a plan A and B for your workout.
Ever go to bed, thinking about how you are going to CRUSH the weights the next day, or burn the pavement up with your epic sprints…only to wake up feeling sore, beat up, and groggy?
Instead of trying to stick to plan A and grind through, keep a plan B in your back pocket. That doesn’t mean do nothing, but it means pick something that is less stressful. Your body is probably trying to tell you something here.
Maybe work on mobility, lower intensity cardio, a more dynamic effort workout (lighter weights for speed), or at least shorten up your intense part of your session and couple it with some lower intensity walking and foam rolling at the end.
Don’t get me wrong – this is not a pass to start going “easy” on all your workouts – because most people truly don’t push themselves to an intensity that they can actually handle – but if you are a hardcore gym goer, and starting to feel a little burnt out, maybe it’s time to take a little step back and let your body level out a bit.
So next time you are feeling “blah”, go for a walk – even 5 minutes – and then assess what’s going on. That might be all you need, or you might be ready to toss around some weights – but either way, listen to your body, and keep the enjoyment in exercise.
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Stay healthy my friends,