Exercise: It’s About More Than Losing Weight
When I was in my early to mid 20s I was in great shape. I worked out about 4 times a week. In fact, I even participated in some boot camp type groups. I motivated myself by setting goals (ex: work out 3 times a week for 4 weeks in a row) and then purchasing one new piece of workout clothing each time I achieved that goal. This worked well, and I ended up with a lot of cute workout clothes that I felt really great wearing!
The only issue? People would often comment on my slim figure when they found out I worked out. I was still gaining confidence in myself, and I wasn’t sure how to respond when people would say, “You don’t need to work out! You’re so skinny!” It’s true that I’ve been lucky enough to have a fairly slim figure my whole life regardless of whether or not I was regularly exercise. But that had nothing to do with my choice to exercise! In fact, it kind of offended me when people would bring my weight into the conversation at all. Why did they feel it was somehow polite to comment on my weight just because I was “skinny?”
The truth is that I discovered in high school that exercising regularly has an amazing impact on my mental health! At various points in my life when I’ve felt stressed or “down” I’ve turned to exercise. Why? Because it works. My personal intent has never yet been to lose weight. I know it’s great for that too, but I exercise for other reasons.
Now I talk about exercise all the time…as a counselor!
I talk about working out and exercise all the time in individual counseling sessions. Why? Because it’s great for mental health. I already told you that I learned early on that it’s good for my own mental wellbeing, but I’ve learned since that it’s great for everyone’s mental health! I’ve been told that working out releases some of the same chemicals in the brain that an antidepressant does, but I also now it impacts mental health in other ways too. I’ve read articles for years now about the impact of running on mental health, but more recently research has confirmed what I could have told them years ago; weightlifting and other forms of exercise are ALSO great for mental wellbeing!
Some of the other ways exercise can impact your mental health include:
Just Getting Out of the House Helps with Depression
Just getting up and out of the house to go work out increases the chances that you’ll get out for other things too. In fact, behavioral activation (getting up and doing something) is one of the most effective ways to treat depression. When counseling someone with depression, I help them look for ways to get up and stay busy even on really difficult days. But if I can get them to go for a run or make it to the gym even for a short while? That’s about a hundred times better because it has the added benefit of all those feel good chemicals being released that I mentioned above.
Sunlight is Great for Your Mood!
If you are exercising outside you have the added benefit of sunlight which can have a positive impact on mood. Sunlight in and of itself is excellent for mental health. In fact, sunlight can help remind the body to release serotonin just like exercise can. So pow, double whammy! Take that the winter blues! Even in darker, colder months we have the occasional nice day where you can head outside. Even if you’re not into running in the great outdoors try taking the kids to a public park and running around. A nice game of “tag” on the soccer fields at Cosmo Park can get your heart rate up AND help you get a little sunshine.
Working Out Sharpens Your Brain
Working out gives you a chance to think. Many of my clients report that their head feels the clearest when they are exercising. I’ve had multiple clients who will go for a run when they need to think through a big decision. There’s research to back this up. In fact, research shows that not only does exercise sharpen your overall thinking skills, but it can improve your memory!
Exercise Helps Your Feel Accomplished
Most importantly, working out gives you a sense of accomplishment. It feels good to know you’ve done something. Working out allows you to push yourself a little bit harder each day and you can see measurable results. Whether you’re lifting heavier weights, doing more repetitions or running further these measurable results “prove” that you have done something worthwhile and positive.
Remember how I said that in my early 20s I worked our regularly? Back then I loved exercising at night. It started in college when I realized that the rec center at the University of Missouri was much less crowded around 10pm. As an adult I instead headed to Wilson’s Total Fitness in the evenings. Now I’ve started something new. These days I work out right after dropping my son off at school. I’ve found that exercising earlier in the day is great, because I love feeling like I’ve accomplished something before I even make it into the office! I walk into the office having the advantages of a little extra serotonin AND knowing that I managed to lift more today, run a mile faster or otherwise excel in the gym. It seems to really set the tone for the rest of my day!
Find a Local Gym or Running Buddy
We are lucky in Columbia, MO to have many different options for working out. If you like going the gym route, I currently use Wilson’s Total Fitness. To be honest, the main reason I go there is they have an excellent child care program and I can cart my toddler to the gym as well, so I don’t have to arrange my workout schedule around our childcare arrangements. But there are so many other amazing options! Last Summer I loved doing the boot camp classes at Legacy Life Fitness! It’s a small group, supportive atmosphere that was a ton of fun, and Bryce pushed me just enough that I accomplished amazing things in a short period of time. If it weren’t for that child care thing and an overly busy schedule I’d still be there a couple times a week.
You may just choose to find a running buddy. This is a great way to combine spending time with a friend and exercising-both important parts of a good self care plan!
Counseling in Columbia, MO
If you are looking for a little extra help tackling your depression or otherwise improving your mental health, we’d love to help! Aspire Counseling is a Mid Missouri mental health clinic providing individual counseling services to teens, college students and adults. We have expert therapists who specialize in various mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, trauma and grief. Every one of our counselors offers a FREE in person consultation to help you determine if we are the right fit. Contact us today and we can talk about how counseling can help you get unstuck and move forward to be the best version of yourself!