There’s a scene in “Legally Blonde” where Elle Woods is discussing a case with fellow lawyers and matter-of-factly states that their client is innocent because, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands, they just don’t.” All the other lawyers look at her like she is crazy but there is truth to the statement.
Endorphins are chemicals that activate happiness and minimize pain. Did you ever notice that your mood improves and you feel good after a workout? How about the feeling that you can do anything after a particularly strenuous workout? That’s due to endorphins being released.
These endorphins have such a strong effect on the body that they can alleviate anxiety and depression. In fact, “ just 30 minutes of treadmill walking for 10 consecutive days was sufficient to produce a clinically relevant and statistically significant reduction in depression.” For those that suffer from anxiety, a short walk can relieve stress and anxiety for hours. In addition, anxiety disorders are less prevalent in those that exercise regularly. Many psychologists will incorporate exercise into a treatment plan for both depression and anxiety.
While these endorphins are fighting off mental illness, they are also boosting your self-esteem and self-image. How this works is not fully understood, but there is a clear link between an improved sense of self and exercise.
Basically, if you want to be happy, and improve your self-esteem and mood, you need to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. So, what should you do?
Create a Plan
Create an exercise plan for yourself that is realistic and achievable. Once you have your plan, start a journal to track how you feel.Track your mood before and after a workout to see results.
Creating a plan is the easy part but holding yourself accountable can be more difficult. Here are some tips for creating a successful plan:
1. Choose a time to exercise and think of it as part of your job
When it comes to work, we don’t question whether we are going to make it or not; therefore, think of exercise the same way. Set your workout times at the beginning of the week and hold yourself to them. Add these times into your calendar and do not allow yourself the temptation to change your plan.
If exercising after work, bring your workout gear to work so you don’t need to go home. You can now think of your workout as fun extension to your work day.
2. Set a goal
We create career and personal goals for ourselves all the time but we often forget to make a workout goal for ourselves. Before the week begins, create a goal for yourself and write it down. This will give you something to work towards throughout the week. Keep track of your progress throughout the week to help stay on track to reach your goal.
You can even attach a reward to your goal. If you reach your goal, maybe you will allow yourself to purchase something small you’ve wanted or you can spend money to join an exercise class now that you know the money will not go to waste.
3. Enlist friends
If other people are counting on you, it’s easier to stay accountable. Sometimes we don’t mind letting ourselves down but we do care about upsetting others. Scheduling workouts with friends is any easy way to stay on track; plus, it makes exercise a social experience which makes it fun.
If you are unable to meet with a friend, use texting or social media to stay on track. Everyone can check in daily with their progress. If struggling with motivation, the group can help find ways to help you get that workout in.
4. Choose something you will enjoy
Workouts should be enjoyable. If you dislike an activity, you are more likely to skip a workout. Try some different workouts to see what you like. A lot of places will allow one free class so you can test it out to see if it’s the right fit for you.
Katie Ringley wrote a great article exploring different workouts based on goals. She covers Crossfit, running, and barre classes. The article goes back to goal-setting. If you create a fitness goal in addition to a goal for the number of workouts you plan to complete, this article will help you make an informed choice. Cycling classes have become quite popular as well so look into those if they sound interesting.
For some of us, knowing that exercise will improve our overall lives, including our mood and self-esteem, is enough to get us going and keep us motivated. For others, a little extra motivation may be required. Consider this, the association between exercise and depression works the other way as well. People that do not exercise have a high rates of depression, anxiety, and lower self-esteem. Remember that you aren’t just exercising to stay fit physically; your mental health is also at stake. Be sure to set aside at least 30 minutes to exercise, your overall health is riding on it.
Christin currently teaches English in a Chicago suburb. Her time as a teacher helped her understand the importance of physical and mental health. Because of her interest in health, she went back to school and received a Masters of Arts in School and Community Counseling. With a desire to help others, Christin began blogging in the hopes of showing others how physical health can lead to a happier life.
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