Why do we exercise?

In March 2024, Health and Safety6 MinutesBy Laura HulleyApril 24, 2024

We need to look beyond the facade of all of the fitness rubbish out there, and try to relate it back to ourselves, our own goals and what is realistic for our lifestyles and physiques.

We are absolutely drowning in online fitness content. Influencers, TV personalities and sports stars use so many different channels to promote and praise the trends they attribute to gaining their impressive physiques. Because we are overexposed to many media outlets, we are often influenced and swayed into trying different training trends and fads. Unfortunately, what is often overshadows all this fluff is the fact that exercise is good for your mental and physical health. Never mind having big biceps or an enviable booty, aesthetics are the least important by-product of an exercise routine.

The danger of fitspos is that you see them, listen to the regime they’ve supposedly been following and think, “If I did the exact same thing, I would look like a photocopy.” In reality, every person is unique in terms of body composition, metabolism, shape and size. It’s like saying if you used the same fuel in a Mack and a Kenworth, they’d perform exactly the same (a trucking metaphor for you).

Instead of saying, “I want to exercise to look like this person” or “I want to exercise so I’m not as fat”, let’s think about more positive and important reasons why we might exercise.

Get a better night’s sleep

Lack of sleep leads to several health problems, including anxiety and depression. Exercise is powerful in influencing our sleep patterns and helps increase our deep sleep, improves restless leg syndrome, insomnia, and sleep apnoea. If you work long hours, your opportunity for sleep is often limited, so it is important to get as much quality sleep as possible in the small window that you have available. With a newborn, I can see the impact of lack of sleep on many factors, including brain function and the desire to eat everything in sight.

Increased brain power

Exercise helps to sharpen the mind and enhance brain power by increasing blood flow and the production of important proteins for the brain. In the long term, exercise can help the symptoms of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Improve your energy levels

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, feel-good hormones that reduce your pain perception and provide greater endurance throughout the day. It also improves overall cardiovascular health, which in turn, helps you get through those long days more easily. With positive hormones flowing through your body, you will feel less sluggish at the end of the day.

Helps with building connections

If you exercise in a group or community setting, it reduces the sense of social isolation and helps create new connections and friendships outside of your work environment or usual social scene. Working long hours can often mean we don’t have much time for hobbies or making social connections, but if we choose to exercise in a social setting, we are killing two birds with one stone (doing something positive for our bodies and meeting new people).

Remember this

Exercise boosts your ability to remember and recall essential information throughout the day. The hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning, actually grows during regular physical activity. In the long term, people who have exercised regularly have an improved processing speed and function and overall cognitive brain health in later life.

Helps relieve anxiety

Today, anxiety is one of the most common forms of mental illness. Exercise reduces the feelings and symptoms of anxiety, especially rhythmic forms of exercise where you are utilising your arms and legs together, such as walking, swimming and dancing. Yoga and breathing exercises are also beneficial in calming the mind and helping us focus on the positive, reducing overall anxiety.

Stress release

As well as relieving anxiety, exercise can help the body to release stress. In our fact- paced and demanding environment, it is common to experience stress and its related symptoms. Exercise reduces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and helps to protect the cardiovascular, digestive and immune systems.

Improve your mood and confidence level

When you exercise, your body produces chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins, which help to improve your mood and stimulate feelings of calm. As we exercise and slowly build muscle mass and potentially lose body fat, we can feel more accomplished, satisfied and happier in our skin because we are putting in the effort to look after ourselves and improve our health.

These positive benefits of exercise may seem straightforward and obvious, but they are often drowned out by fitness influencers and media streams promoting products and exercise fads. Let’s focus on the positive effects of exercise on our mental and physical health, rather than on attaining an often-impossible physique of a celebrity or fitspo.