In an effort to keep the blog organic, I often write about whatever is going on in my life at that given point in time (narcissistic, I know). So, what is a girl to do when there really isn’t much going on at all. It would be an understatement to say that I have been feeling slight uninspired… or maybe just a little lack luster. I have been in a constant flux of wanting to be big; wanting to be lean; wanting to be strong. Just in general, wanting to do something, but not quite knowing what that something is, which does not make for great programming.
One of the main reasons I gave up competing was because I wanted to live a more balanced life. The thought of missing the gym, and not caring about it, seemed like a good idea at the time. But in all reality, that’s just not who I am. I still find myself cancelling dates, turning down plans, and staying in on a Friday, so that I can still hit my workouts. Now, I know this is not even close to comparable to a prep. Because I do in fact, still go out for beers, eat the occasional whole pizza, and openly partake in work BBQs and such.
I’m not trying to preach how ‘it’s a lifestyle” or anything like that. But when I think about it a little more, it really is a huge part of my identity. The reason I stress about missing the gym isn’t because I’m afraid of gaining weight, or as a punishment for the food I ate, or even to get bigger at this point. It’s my “center”. It’s “me’ time. It is the one constant in my life that anchors everything around me. So, while other people may think of it as vanity, for me it’s my sanity.
One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. I don’t think this is any huge surprise to anyone. This is both relevant to mental and physical stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So it’s more than just an outlet to “let off steam”, but an actual physiological coping mechanism.
While on the topic of human chemistry. Exercise also releases endorphins, which induce that lovely feeling of euphoria. This of course can be obtained through other things, like drugs, love.. even food. But exercise seems like a great alternative. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, exercise is a common recommendation for people suffering from depression and anxiety. In some cases, regular exercise has been even as effective as medical intervention (prescription aids).
In one specific study, the chemicals that are released during and after interval training helped alleviate the symptoms associated with diagnosed anxiety disorders.
Especially relevant to myself, as Alzheimer’s runs in my family. Studies have shown that exercise can help protect the brain against cognitive decline, that begins after age 45. In addition, especially between age 25 and 45, exercise boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.
It’s also not that big of a surprise that most “gym rats” aren’t big drinkers. This has more to do with chemistry, than the obvious points of avoiding calories and hangovers. The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, or food…love. Since the brain doesn’t differentiate the source, some people go more self-destructive routes to get their dopamine fix.
Lastly sleep. Sweet sweet sleep. Which might be my favorite thing after the gym and food (and maybe puppies). For some, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping aid for people with insomnia. Just avoid taking pre-workout too late in the evening. Moving around five to six hours before bedtime raises your core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep. You are essentially manipulating, and self-regulating your body’s circadian rhythm. Just try to avoid working out too close to bedtime, or it will have an opposite effect.
So next time you try to tell someone they don’t “need” to workout, maybe they do. Don’t assume to know what everyone’s internal motivation.