Weight loss is definitely one of the most popular motivators for beginning an exercise routine. But what happens when your progress slows? What happens when you reach your “goal weight”? Are there other benefits to exercise other than a more slender physique?
Think about your last workout. It may have been hard and difficult to get through. You may have had to fight to get there, and it may have left you tired, sweaty and sore… but do you regret it? Chances are, you absolutely do not. In fact, you might even feel pride as you think about your last workout and you completely deserve to. The knowledge that you CAN is uplifting and empowering. Psychologically, every workout you successfully complete adds another gold-star to your psyche. It’s an incredible self-esteem booster. Your body may not look the way you want it to quite yet, but look at the incredible things it’s learning to do. Look at what your body is capable of! The scale may not show you what you want to see, but let yourself be proud of the potential for excellence that exercise is allowing your mind to discover.
Stress Relief and Stress Preparedness
Biologically, exercise has endless unseen benefits. Exercise puts your body in a low-level stress environment, which raises your heart rate and triggers the release of certain stress-related hormones. Doing this in a controlled environment teaches your heart and brain that they are capable of functioning under and surviving stressful situations. This means that when you encounter stressful events and situations outside of the gym, your brain and heart are prepared as a result of your conditioning, making you much better prepared to handle and deal with all stressful situations.
The Dopamine Effect
Exercise also stimulates the release of the chemical “dopamine” in your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for feelings of pleasure and happiness. As we grow older, our bodies tend to release less dopamine than when we were kids. This means that to maintain happiness well into your golden years, we’ve got to seek out activities that release this chemical. Who would have thought that a quick walk around the block could be so good for your brain?
Release the Endorphins!
When you exercise, your body also releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are responsible for immediate happiness, while dopamine tends to improve your happiness levels over time. When your body releases endorphins and dopamine at the same time (like right after a jog in the park, or after you’ve finished a really great weight-lifting session) the endorphins will create a sense of euphoria. Runners know this as “runner’s high.” Endorphins also act as an analgesic, which means that they help to diminish your body’s perception of pain. This is particularly beneficial for those ladies out there who, like myself, experience particularly painful menstrual cramps. It seems counter-intuitive, but a quick brisk-walk or a few easy laps in the neighborhood pool help to relieve my cramps more effectively than any over-the-counter pill ever has.
Ultimately, exercise helps you deal with stress, increases the production of happy chemicals in your entire body, and helps to make your mood better overall–even once your workout has ended. So if the scale has slowed or stopped, don’t give up. Your body and your mind are still benefiting enormously from your dedication. Don’t quit now. You deserve all of the happiness exercise can bring.