We all know that exercise works wonders when it comes to improving our physical health, right?
It lowers blood sugar and fat levels, improves cholesterol, strengthens bones and muscles, and helps control weight. But exercise also has some serious mental and emotional benefits.
In fact, exercise can help you become a kinder person, leading to stronger relationships with anyone and everyone. Here's how.
1. Working out relieves stress.
Exercise reduces levels of your body's stress hormones—such as adrenaline and cortisol—and it stimulates the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators. Not only do we feel less stressed out and sometimes euphoric when we exercise, but studies show that these aren't just short-term chemical effects in the brain. Regular exercise has a long-term effect on anxiety and overall happiness.
When we feel less stressed out, we're less likely to lose our tempers or say or do things that we'll regret later. In fact, working out also increases levels of serotonin in the brain, which in turn decreases our tendency toward aggression.
2. Working out gives you a break and clears your mind.
Unless you're a professional athlete, chances are that exercise isn't part of your workday. That means the time that you take to exercise is time out from the rest of the day. Your environment is completely different, and what you're actually doing with your mind and body is different.
If you're having a bad day, I can't think of a better way to interrupt it than with a workout.
Exercise also increases levels of the protein brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps your brain change by nourishing your neurons and helping new ones grow. Have you ever felt like your mind is super clear and sharp after a workout? That's the BDNF working its magic.
Once you've created a clear break in your day and in your mind, chances are that you may physically feel differently about a difficult situation or conversation that happened before your workout. With a clear mind, you can re-examine the situation and decide what the best course of action would be to benefit the situation.
3. Working out improves sleep.
Working out uses up energy, breaks down your tissue, and raises your body temperature, all things that prepare it nicely for sleep. In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to name another activity that has a more direct correlation to sleeping well than exercise. And we all know what kind of crankiness can result from not getting enough sleep, right?
4. Working out gives you confidence.
If you work out, you're probably familiar with the feeling of discomfort that comes from pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.
And most likely, you've had to make plans and put effort into incorporating your workout into your day. These are all accomplishments that no one can take away from you and that you can achieve on a regular basis.
Overcoming these challenges and consciously pushing yourself past your comfort zone during a workout is wonderful practice for doing the same thing in real life.
Because you've had the practice during your workout, you might feel more empowered to open up to a new or even uncomfortable situation. Operating from a foundation of self-confidence gives you the power to be curious and kind rather than defensive and afraid.
In other words, you can more often say to yourself, I've got this.
5. Working out enhances creativity and problem-solving.
Working out has been shown to improve creativity independently of mood. Creativity leads to flexibility, which is one of the most important characteristics of understanding and relating to others. If we're constantly stuck in our own way of thinking and aren't able to be flexible in the way we approach other people, we may find that the group of people we can relate to is pretty small.
Creativity also helps us to resolve difficult situations. Exercise improves divergent thinking, meaning it encourages new ideas to be generated.
Have you ever felt stuck in a relationship or a conversation? This divergent thinking could help you come up with new ways to deal with old situations and help you to work through problems rather than shut down or run away from them.
As you can see, working out has a ton of benefits for your health and your life. It's about so much more than just building muscle or losing weight. The benefits above all also enhance one another, so there's a compounding effect!
They key is to work out with intention and mindfulness. Don't multitask while you're working out, and don't go into it with the mindset that you need to immediately feel everything I mentioned above—these things will naturally happen once you relax and go with the flow of your workout.