How much of fitness and exercise is actually psychological?

Well defined muscles, trimmed waistline & six pack abs are not all that we gain from regular exercise. Certainly, exercise adds years to our life and has a plethora of physical health benefits but it also positively impacts our mental health. Research has studied numerous mental health benefits of physical activity. Let’s have a look.

Exercise your way out of stress 

Tensed muscles, body pains, headaches, muscle cramps are commonly experienced when you are under tremendous stress. Physical activity can put a break to this cycle. Engaging in physical activity encourages the release of the feeling good hormones named endorphins, leaving you feeling energised and releases your muscle tension. Our body and mind share a close relation, so when your body feels better your mind feels lighter too! 

Exercise can treat various mental health disorders like depressions, anxiety, PTSD, etc.

Research by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggested that a 15-minute walk or run every day can alleviate the risk of depression by 26%. In fact, regularly maintaining an exercise routine can reduce the chances of relapse. 

Focusing your attention towards the body movements and feelings while exercising can aid your nervous system to slowly release the immobilization caused due to PTSD or trauma. Walking in sand, swimming, dancing that involves movement of both hands and legs are some of your best picks. 

Sharpens your memory, thinking, enhances your self-esteem, improves your sleep, increases energy 

Exercise stimulates the levels of dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin in the brain that enhances your focus and attention. It fosters the development of your sense of self-worth and makes you feel stronger. Accomplishment of every small exercise goal stimulates a sense of achievement. 15-minute vigorous exercise in the morning or 30 minutes of gentle stretching in the evening promote good quality sleep. 

We see that exercise can play a vital role in mental health. But this might raise a question in your mind.

Does your mind influence your physical activity level too?

Michael Phelps has a wingspan of an albatross and Roger Federer has the timing of an exquisite Swiss watch only due to mere athleticism and technical know-how? The answer is no. It is well-established that exercise influences our mental health, likewise, even our mental strength/mind impacts our levels of physical activity. 

Notice, when you run while listening to good music and you take an extra lap or when you stay in a plank position despite being tired & drenched in sweat? This is because listening to good music boosts your mood that in turn motivates you to push harder. In the second scenario, even though your body has no strength, your mind gathers energy to take that extra mile!

Your mind is what makes everything else work

Our mental strength matters the most. Physical ability alone rarely facilitates in achieving our optimum potential. Even the greatest athletes gifted with natural physical skills demonstrate phenomenal mental strengths. 
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Basketball player

Up your mental game

  • Control the Controllable: Focus on things that are in your control rather than those that are out of your scope. For instance, you can focus on controlling the efforts you put in the gym to build your fitness rather than controlling when you will build the six pack abs.
  • Assign small challenging tasks: Bigger tasks may seem difficult to achieve and you may lose motivation halfway. Instead break down your goals and assign smaller tasks that are challenging to keep yourself motivated and celebrate the small achievements. For instance, running the full marathon may seem difficult to finish but if you set a goal of running 3km, it may seem challenging but achievable and eventually you can increase the distance.
  • Focus on your own journey: It is easier to get caught up in what others are doing. We are all wearing different shoes so comparing your journey to theirs will be mere foolishness. Rather, focus on your daily hassles and accomplishments. For example, it is common to compare your progress with that of other team members neglecting the seniority, position, etc.

So make sure to remember the next time when someone says that exercise is all physical, it is not. The mental aspect, exercise and diet - combined is what will make you achieve your goals. After all, simply eating right and dieting will not work unless we really motivate and set ourselves to achieve that dream body and get stronger.

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