Home » 21 Day Mini-Course: Establish an Exercise Habit » Day 2: Why Exercise?

Day 2: Why Exercise?

Gentle Exercise
“At every level, from the microcellular to the psychological, exercise not only wards off the ill effects of chronic stress; it can also reverse them. Studies show that if researchers exercise rats that have been chronically stressed, that activity makes the hippocampus grow back to its preshriveled state. The mechanisms by which exercise changes how we think and feel are so much more effective than donuts, medicines, and wine. When you say you feel less stressed out after you go for a swim, or even a fast walk, you are.”
― John J. Ratey, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

As you no doubt know, there are a lot of great reasons to move your body on a daily basis. Reams of research show the following benefits to exercise:

(1) Exercise makes us healthier physically and helps us control our weight, so much so that it will increases longevity — the amount of time that you live. Physically active people have:

Reduced risk of heart attack

Lower blood cholesterol

Lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Lower risk of cancer

Lower blood pressure

Stronger bones, muscles, joints — and therefore lower risk of osteoporosis and risk of injury from falls.

(2) Exercise reduces stress and anxiety. Aerobic exercise has been shown to alleviate anxiety disorders, even people who don’t struggle with a disorder report feeling less anxious after exercise.

(3) Physical movement improves sleep — and better sleep also tends to makes us happier, healthier, and more productive during the day.

(4) Exercise boosts your energy by delivering oxygen and nutrients to your brain and muscles. It helps your cardiovascular and muscular system work more efficiently, which gives you more strength and endurance (and therefore energy). Exercise also triggers the production of insulin receptors, which means that your body is able to better utilize glucose, or blood sugar — the raw energy that your body runs on.

(5) Physical movement makes us happier, in part by fostering the neurochemicals in your body and brain that leave you happier and more relaxed. Doctors in the UK often prescribe exercise as a first-line treatment for depression it’s so effective!

(6) It’ll improve your ability to focus, resist temptations, and make good decisions. According to John Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, participants in an Australian study who exercised

reported that an entire range of behavior related to self-regulation took a turn for the better. Not only did they steadily increase their visits to the gym, they reported that they smoked less, drank less caffeine and alcohol, ate more healthy food and less junk food, curbed impulse spending and overspending, and lost their tempers less often. They procrastinate less and kept more appointments. And, they didn’t leave the dishes in the sink–at least not as often.

(7) Physical activity conditions your brain for improved memory and learning. Exercise increases brain chemicals called “growth factors,” which help the brain both grow new neurons and establish new connections between existing neurons. This helps us learn, adapt to change, and move what we learn into long-term memory.

I hope, looking at this long list of benefits–which is not even exhaustive, by the way–that you are feeling great about your decision to establish the habit of exercising.

HomeworkWhat To Do Today

Task #1: Take a minute to reflect and answer the following questions in your workbook:

Which of these benefits are most meaningful to you?

Which do you need or want the most?

Which benefits do you find the most immediately rewarding, e.g., which do you you tend to experience on the same day that you exercise?

Which single benefit is the most rewarding to you in the short term?

Task #2: Reflect on how you’ve exercised or moved in the past, and how those activities tend to make you feel (again, in the short term — on the same day or evening that you exercise). Fill out the table in your workbook.