Right before I turned twenty, I started my first serious fitness regimen, and right away I noticed the outrageous benefits of regular exercise. Before, I laughed off exercise as a waste of time, regardless of the fact I hated my body. I assumed that dieting alone would help me stay thin, or make me thin, depending on if I was on a weight loss kick or not at the time. Little did I know that one of the best benefits of regular exercise was coming off the diet rollercoaster mentality, along with a host of other benefits. If you’re unsure if you should make time for exercise, or whether or not exercise is actually doing you any good, read on to discover unknown benefits of regular exercise that can literally change your life and your body!
1. Stress Adaptation
One of the first major benefits of regular exercise I started to notice when I began working out was how well I handled stress, almost immediately. Before, I would let anything send me into a spiral of depression and in fact, when I started exercising seriously, I was in the first major depression of my life. I had just moved home from college and was suffering from isolation, depression and an eating disorder. When I began working out, I noticed that I kept coming back to the gym day after day, more for the mental strength working out was giving me than for how it was changing my body. When you exercise, you're not only increasing your physical stamina, but you’re also activating tons of neurons in your brain that completely change how you think and handle stress.
2. Better Sleep
Before working out became a part of my day, I would stay up til 1 a.m. and not get up until noon the next day and still be tired! I just assumed I was a night owl and a late sleeper. No harm there, right? Yet, I discovered that as I started exercising, I actually went to bed much earlier, as in more around 9 p.m. and was up by 5 a.m. with tons of energy all day long. I had never in my life been this way, nor expected to be. Yet, I was losing weight and felt happier than I had in ages. I was also sleeping better, which gave me more energy throughout my day.
3. Self Confidence
Always having a low self-esteem as a child, I never imagined exercising could actually help me feel better about myself outside of just how I viewed my body. After only a couple weeks, I started to notice I had more self confidence at my job, around my family and in my hobbies. I began writing again for the first time in ages, and also had more confidence to talk to people I didn’t know and even go to social functions alone to meet others.
4. Physical Stamina
Obviously one of the most well-known benefits to exercising is how it affects your physical abilities, but exercising provides your body with more stamina than just in the gym alone. I noticed at my job that my legs weren’t as tired from standing all day, my posture was immediately better, and though I was slowly dropping extra weight, my strength was actually twice what it used to be. I also had greater flexibility, which improved my joints significantly. Exercise has been proven to prevent or treat arthritis, joint pain and fatigue when done correctly.
5. No More Scales
For the first time in my life, a year after I started exercising, I threw my scale away and no longer cared what my magic number was anymore. One might think the opposite would be true, but in fact, exercising gave me such confidence in my body that a certain number no longer defined me, nor mattered to me. Learning to appreciate my body for how it fit in my clothes rather than what number it equated to was one of the most freeing things I’ve ever experienced in my life! A number does not define you, so let go of the scale obsession and experience body freedom, girls!
6. Say Goodbye to Colds
Exercising and eating well gave me something else I thought it never would: the best immune system I’ve ever had in my life. Before fitness became a part of my day, I got sick at least 4-5 times a year and regularly experienced strep throat once a year almost my entire life. Once I started exercising, I never got sick and the need for those yearly antibiotics pretty much went out the window. Exercising increases your body’s immunity, strength and resistance to disease. It’s the best prescription and cure-all you’ll ever find!
7. More Muscle, Less Fat
I have to admit, lean muscles were never a goal of mine when I started exercising. In fact, I always feared exercising would bulk me up. I wanted to be lean and thin, not bulky like a bodybuilder! Just a daily amount of cardio and minimal weights gave me the best muscle composition I could have ever dreamed of. My arms were toned, and my legs actually showed definition instead of wobbling around like they used to! I couldn’t believe I was eating more and actually looking leaner. Exercise turns on special receptors in your body that tell your muscles to burn fat, which allows your lovely little muscles to shine through, with absolutely no bulk included!
8. Greater Appreciation for Food
My first day at the gym, I did not diet. In fact, I ate like crap. Yet, after a week of exercising, I noticed that without even trying, I simply just did not want to eat junk anymore. I actually craved lean protein and veggies. My family thought I was crazy! I started cooking egg whites and veggies for breakfast, eating tons of fish and salads and lots of nonfat, plain yogurt. I craved healthy foods because they made me feel good. For the first time in my life, I stopped being obsessed with dieting and just started eating healthy foods. I didn’t care how many calories I ate, nor how many I burned. I also appreciated where my food came from more and stopped buying fast food immediately. Exercising changes the way your body and mind function so that they can work together for you at the gym and at your dinner table.
9. Better Digestive Function
Most people don’t start an exercise regimen to improve their digestive system, yet it is one of the first areas of your body that immediately improves. Since exercise decreases stress in our body, this directly affects our nervous system. Our nervous system completely controls digestive function. When we are stressed, depressed, upset, happy, etc., our digestive systems will either become overactive or underactive. Exercise massages your inner organs and also decreases stress, which means your body becomes more regular and digests food more efficiently. Forget taking a nap after a meal and take a walk instead!
10. Body Confidence
One of the most well-known benefits of exercising is better body confidence. You will actually love buying and wearing your clothes again once you start an exercise program. In fact, you'll probably have to buy new ones since your body composition will change. Exercise is your free excuse to go shopping, girls! Even if you don’t see results immediately, stay with your fitness program! The best changes come with time and not overnight when it comes to your body. Losing 10 pounds in one week is not healthy and it doesn’t mean your body is healthy. Exercise slowly changes your body composition for life, which crash diets don’t do! With exercise, you’ll actually love putting on your clothes again and feel better about yourself all day long!
I recommend starting out exercising 5 days a week if you’re new to working out and 6-7 days a week if you’re a regular exerciser. I actually enjoy doing something every day of the week, even if it is only a 30 minute walk with some mild stretching on days I'm super tired. The key is to be active all day as much as you can. Remember, exercising isn’t a free ticket to sit on your rear all day, girls, so be as active as you can and have fun! Summer is a great time to get outside and start moving! What benefit of working out do you enjoy the most?