Regular exercise can improve our physical health, decrease our risk for serious health conditions, and help us feel better emotionally.  For many of us, our lives are so full that don’t know how to add exercise into our already packed days. Neglecting our health at the expense of our busy schedules is dangerous for many reasons, but ultimately it can stop us from being the healthiest version of ourselves, both in mind and body.  Understanding the impact that exercise has on our lives, allows us to make intentional choices to improve our health.

 Common reasons we avoid exercise

Lack of Time.  Lack of time is a major concern when starting and maintaining an exercise routine.  You take on so many responsibilities that you rarely have time for yourself.  When you have a brief moment to slow down, another critical task quickly moves to the front of the line. Even though your to-do list never ends, there is still that voice in the back of your mind – the voice of your basic needs – telling you that you need to make your health a priority.   Listen to this voice!  Find a few minutes in your day – 10 to 15 minutes – for exercise.  A quick walk in the neighborhood, a yoga tutorial online, a quick high-intensity workout – any of these are great places to start.

Guilt.   What will my children do when I’m exercising?  Am I a bad mom for going to the gym when my son is at football practice?  Guilt starts off as a subtle whisper, but left unchecked, it can grow louder.  Sometimes we think that taking care of ourselves is equivalent to selfishness.  What if I told you that exercising, and finding a consistent health care routine, is one of the most selfless acts you can give to your family?  Studies show that consistent exercise is linked to increased productivity and mental focus.  This means that exercising regularly can help you become more focused and present with your partner, children, and with yourself.  Letting go of self-inflicted guilt is an important part of building self-care through exercise.

Lack of knowledge.  Maybe you realize that exercise is key to your long-term health, both physically and mentally.  You’re ready to move!  And you know the recipe for success….diet and exercise!  Should be easy, right?  Wrong!  It is surprisingly easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of exercise material online.  Cardio or weight training?  Aerobics or water exercises?  Run or walk? Not knowing where to start or what you enjoy can easily keep us stuck.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, consider finding a workout partner to start the journey with you.

What are the emotional benefits of exercise? 

Improve stress and overall mood.  Our bodies release stress hormones as our stress level increases, which may trigger our “fight or flight mode.” Stress also triggers increased heart rate, trouble breathing, and sweating.  Exercise can help decrease overall stress levels.  In fact, researchers found that exercise actually reorganizes the brain to increase resilience to stress.  Exercise also has been shown to improve mood by increasing endorphins.

Increases confidence.  Exercise can also increase confidence.  Setting, working on, and achieving a set of goals helps build a sense of personal accomplishment.  This is why many “couch to 5K” programs work, as they build slowly on small goals.  With each accomplishment, you can continue to work on building larger goals.  It feels great to accomplish something new.

Improve sleep.  Exercise also improves quality of sleep.  Sufficient sleep is connected to quality of life and overall health.  Because exercise reduces anxiety, depression, and stress, it can also lead to improved sleep quality.  Here’s a bonus – there is a bilateral connection between exercise and sleep.  This means that as you begin to exercise more, the quality of your sleep will improve, and the quality of your workouts will improve as well.

Reduces the risk of dementia.  A recent research study from the American Academy for Neurology found that women with high physical fitness levels were 90% less likely to develop dementia decades later than women who were less fit.  Although the study does not look at cause and effect of exercise and dementia, there is a chance that adding fitness could delay or prevent dementia.

Adding exercise and self-care into your day can help you live an efficient and healthy life!

Dr. Jacque Strait, Ph.D. is a licensed Counseling Psychologist and co-owner of Winding Way Therapy, and creator of Fit For a Queen Wellness Consulting.  Dr. Strait specializes in counseling for professional women suffering from life burnout.  She also provides wellness consulting to Women of Color who want to build better self-care through fitness.  To reach Dr. Strait, contact her at strait@windingwaytherapy.com