The nonphysical benefits of exercise

By Amy McNeel | 9/24/17 9:17pm


Growing up, I was told that I needed to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day to live a healthy lifestyle. In elementary school, I fell in love with sports, and I had to take a gym class every day through my senior year of high school.

Overall, I loved exercise, and the amount of time I spent being physically active was never fleeting. But then I got to college, and like many people my age, I stopped playing the sport I love. Along with this, a mandatory gym class was a thing of the past. 

At college, with nothing and no one to force exercise upon us, it can be easy to say no to physical activity. It can be time-consuming, hard and boring, but it can also be worth it. When people think exercise, a majority of them think of physical benefits, such as weight loss or muscle gain. However, as rewarding as the physical benefits are, there is much more to exercise: It allows you to obtain not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mind. 

I absolutely love working out. The gym feels like my second home, and I don’t go merely because I want to lose weight or see physical changes to my body. Instead, I go because it makes me feel good. After participating in high-intensity workouts, I feel more energetic and happy. This is all thanks to endorphins. 

According to Melissa Conrad Stoppler, M.D. and anatomical pathologist, on WebMD, “Endorphins are among the brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which function to transmit electrical signals within the nervous system.” This chemical is most commonly released in response to pain and stress, and when released, it helps to reduce those feelings.

It has been proven that exercise and physically strenuous activity trigger the release of these feel-good chemicals, and when endorphins are released, not only is there a reduced feeling of pain and stress, but there is also a feeling of euphoria. Due to this, exercise helps combat stress and depression.  

Furthermore, exercise teaches responsibility and helps to boost confidence. Confidence can be felt in many ways through physical activity, and I am not talking about the confidence that comes with physical changes in the body, although that kind of confidence is great, too. Instead, I am talking about the confidence that comes with reaching a goal. 

For example, imagine if you ran a mile five times a week, each time attempting to cut your original mile time. Imagine the struggle. Imagine the failure. But then, imagine the success. Exercise creates a plethora of opportunities to set goals that are challenging yet attainable. It allows you to work as hard as you can and take failure and success in small doses. When you are reaching goals and taking responsibility for your health and wellness, your confidence will show both in and out of the gym. 

When you are living an active lifestyle, it’s easy to focus on physical progress or change, but the nonphysical benefits are what truly matter. Don’t get me wrong, seeing physical progress is incredible and something to be extremely proud of, but it’s not the most important. For me, the gym is a place to push and challenge myself, it is a place to learn, it is a place to explore and it is a place to escape. 

There is so many benefits of exercise, both mental and physical, and I’m happy that I get to experience them all. Exercise is my therapy, and it can be yours, too. 

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