Exercise: It’s not what you lose, but what you gain

in Community by

Photo above: A woman does yoga at ArtiZen Yoga in Beaufort. Yoga teaches participants how to relax and how to be mindful. Photo courtesy of Mariah Robinson of ArtiZen Yoga.

By Kat Walsh

It’s that time of year. A new year means New Year’s resolutions.

And if one of the items on your resolution list for 2017 includes something along the lines of “getting in shape and losing weight,” there’s good and bad news.

The bad news: Out of all the benefits you get from exercise, weight loss is the one that takes the longest for you to see. It takes so long, in fact, that most new exercisers will quit before the weight comes off.

However, the good news is that the benefits to exercising go far beyond weight loss – and many you’ll notice immediately.

Researchers are learning that exercise is, actually, medicine.

“There is no pill that comes close to what exercise can do,” said human genomics researcher Claude Bouchard, in Time magazine’s The New Science of Exercise. “And if there was one, it would be extremely expensive.”

Here are 10 compelling – some surprising – reasons to start exercising.

1. Be happier.

By increasing blood flow to the brain and releasing endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, exercise influences brain chemistry in a positive way, reducing pain, lightening mood and relieving stress.

In 2000, researchers at Duke University compared the antidepressant effects of aerobic exercise to a popular antidepressant. The results: The group who exercised (40 minutes three to five days per week) experienced the greatest antidepressant effect.

2. Alleviate anxiety. 

Which do you think is better at relieving anxiety: a warm bubble bath or a 20-minute jog? Turns out, the warm and fuzzy chemicals that are released during and after that jog – or any exercise – can help people with anxiety calm down.

3. Improve confidence.

“I never thought I would be able to __________.” Fill in the blank. Whatever you previously aspired to, you can do with exercise. Whether it is running 1 mile, cycling through a spinning class or learning a new sport, you can find a new skill set and sense of self through exercise.

“Running is an individual sport, so the results come directly from your efforts,” said Tim Wiez, ultra marathoner and owner of Grounded Running in Port Royal. “Ultimately, this increases self-esteem, resiliency and determination.”

4. Get creative.

Philosopher and author Henry Thoreau said, “My thoughts began to flow the moment my legs began to move.” Many successful creative people past and present are known to be avid and regular exercisers because they’ve all discovered that inspiration is often found in motion. It’s a fact backed up by research as well: Exercise is likely to help enhance your creative thinking.

5. Memory.

If you’ve ever walked into a room only to forget why you entered, exercise may be what you need to remember. Publications from Science Daily to Harvard Health agree that regular exercise actually changes our brains to improve memory and thinking skills. The effect is particularly profound as we age. Studies also suggest that exercise is, as of now, the best way to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

6. Slow the aging process.

Exercise has been shown to lengthen lifespan by as much as five years. Time magazine found several studies suggesting that moderate-intensity exercise may slow down the aging of cells.

7. Better looking skin. 

Forget the Botox and chemical peels – exercise can improve the appearance of your skin. Aerobic exercise revs up blood flow to the skin, delivering oxygen and nutrients that improve skin health and even help wounds heal faster.

8. Mindfulness.

Exercise can also be a welcome mental break from the demands, drains and screens of everyday life. Whether you’re walking on a treadmill, riding a bicycle, rowing a boat or taking a yoga class, when you are exercising, you’re focused on that – and that alone.

“Mindfulness is one of the biggest benefits of a yoga practice,” said Mariah Robinson, instructor at ArtiZen Yoga in Beaufort. “By learning to tune into your posture and breathing, you can gain control over mental fluctuations like anxiety, sadness and anger. Yoga teaches awareness so you can relax your muscles, take deep breaths and be present.”

9. Camraderie.

Whatever you’re interested in, odds are, others are too. And out of that common interest, friendships are formed. Cheryl Mansson, member of the Beaufort Rowing Club, calls the club a wonderful community, both in and out of the boat. And fellow member George Utter said, “I just enjoy and look forward to being around the kinds of folks who row with us.”

No matter what form of fitness fits your fancy, there are fellow friends to be found. If organized sports interest you, there are groups galore to choose from – running, cycling, rowing, tennis, basketball, softball and more. If going solo is more your style, you have a plethora of options both outside (the Spanish Moss Trail, bridge, beaches and parks) and indoors (exercise classes covering everything from boxing to barre fitness.)

“I love seeing all the cars parked at the Cat Island Bridge, with their drivers walking the bridge and enjoying our beautiful scenery,” said Denice Davis, fitness director at the Wardle Family YMCA.  “Beaufort is always changing and there are more and more options for us to get moving, learn new skills and make new friends in the process.”

10. Sleep better.

Studies show that exercise can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep.

If you’re looking to create a better version of yourself for 2017, instead of focusing of what exercise can help you lose, you might be more successful focusing on what it can help you gain.