Ask people why they exercise and they’ll talk about managing their weight or becoming stronger and more flexible. They may even mention keeping their hearts healthy. They don’t often say they want to be happier. Yet the emotional and social benefits of exercise are just as real and important as those toned muscles and better-fitting jeans.
Laurie Ward is a personal trainer, group fitness instructor and mother of three girls younger than 14. She can often be seen doing a workout before she begins teaching one of her classes at the Edward Health & Fitness Centers.
“I can’t get through the week with the patience and positive outlook I want to have unless I get in my own workouts,” Ward says.
Exercise can boost our frame of mind in several ways. It releases neurotransmitters, endorphins and other chemicals that can make us calmer, more energetic and less prone to the blues. Physical effort not only knocks out stress, it helps us sleep better, which also improves mood. Even symptoms of clinical depression often improve significantly with at least 30 minutes of daily exercise three to five days a week, the effects of which might last if the person stays committed to exercise long-term.
And, there’s nothing like setting and meeting goals to help boost confidence.
“If you meet your goal of attending a fitness class three times a week for six weeks, you can then say to yourself ‘I did this once and I can do it again,’” Ward says. “Pretty soon it becomes a habit, and the sense of accomplishment carries over to other areas of life.”
Exercise also can help us stay connected socially if we reach out. That could mean enlisting an exercise buddy, taking a class or doing a 5K. Or it might just be going for a walk with a friend or playing ball with the family instead of watching TV.
“Many of the fitness center members I see in the mornings are coming straight from getting their kids off to school, as I am,” Ward says. “This may be the only adult contact they have until evening. Spending time with the other people in class helps relieve the stress and isolation. Some of the women even go for coffee or someplace else after class.”
A number of hospital-based fitness facilities also offer fitness/social opportunities to people with limitations when it comes to exercise. Examples would be programs for pre- and post-natal women or classes appropriate for people with fibromyalgia or arthritis.
“People bond with others in the same boat,” Ward says. “They don’t have to work out next to someone who looks like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
Regular exercise promotes a better outlook, a clearer mind and a healthier body. It might not be a magic bullet, but it’s close.
Cindy Eggemeyer is the executive director of Edward Health & Fitness Centers, with locations in Naperville, on the campus of Edward Hospital, 801 S. Washington St., and in Woodridge, at 6600 S. Route 53. For more information, visit www.edward.org/fitness. Cindy can be reached at 630-646-7915 and firstname.lastname@example.org.Tags: Edward Hospital, fitness, health & wellness