The Mental and Physical Benefits of Exercise

We are all aware that exercise provides physical benefits, but we may not be as aware of the mental and emotional rewards that come with physical activity.  Here are ten popular types of exercise and the benefits you can expect to receive.

1) Zumba

Zumba is a Latin-dance based class that is fast-paced, fun, and accessible to all ages and fitness levels.

English: Andrea Knight, Zumba instructor, lead...

English: Andrea Knight, Zumba instructor, leads her class through ‘salty Latin moves’ while helping them maintain good fitness. Zumba was just one of the many classes during the Aerobathon at Towle Court Fitness Center Saturday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Physical Benefits: Zumba provides a cardiovascular workout as you are consistently moving for the hour long class.  Many classes also incorporate some lower body strengthening moves.

Mental Benefits: Zumba is fun.  I mean jump around like a little kid in your pajamas kind of fun.  Go ahead, I dare you; try to make it through an entire class without laughing.  Laughter and fun are enormously important elements of wellness.  Zumba will help you get your giggle on.

2) Yoga

Yoga focuses on moving the body into various poses and holding them for a period of time.  Yoga classes can vary greatly, from the most gentle and relaxing to Power 2 hot classes.

Physical Benefits: Yoga helps to lengthen and stretch our tight muscles like nothing else.  The more advanced flow classes also provide strengthening through holding more difficult poses.

Mental Benefits: Yoga teaches you how to soften and relax into discomfort.  It helps you to focus your mind and be in the present moment.  It help to calm anxiety and release anger.  Quite frankly, yoga makes you happy and makes you a nicer person to be around.

Yoga Class at a Gym

3) Kettlebells

Kettlebells were originally used as training tools in Russia, but luckily they made it across the border.  They are simply heavy weights with handles that you move around in prescribed patterns.

Physical Benefits: Kettlebells offer cardiovascular and strength training in one.  They are especially excellent for training the core, glutes, and hamstrings along with developing muscular endurance.

Emotional Benefits: Kettlebell training requires that everything flows from one move to the next.  This helps the mind to flow as well, opening the dams between segments of your mind.  If your thoughts are feeling stuck, try picking up a kettlebell.  I bet your thoughts will be flowing like a river before you know it.

4) High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT can take many forms (I have talked before about Tabata training – ouch!), but it is essentially intervals of very intense exercise followed by intervals of rest.

Physical Benefits: HIIT is excellent for shredding fat in a short period of time.  It also helps to build your anaerobic capacity, which it useful whenever you need a quick burst of energy.

Mental Benefits:  HIIT teaches you to breathe.  Really breathe.  Most of us walk around each day with our lungs only partly used.  Try running sprints  without ever taking a complete, full breath.  It won’t happen.  When you completely fill and empty your lungs, you release tension that you are holding in your mind.

weight training

5) Weight Lifting

Weight lifting can take many forms, but it is essentially contracting the muscles against some form of resistance.

Physical Benefits: Lifting weights helps to build muscle tissue which gives the body a pleasing shape, helps to maintain mobility, and helps to burn fat.  Sounds like a win-win-win to me.

Mental Benefits:  Weight lifting helps you to feel strong.  Empowered.  You may not be able to control everything in your life, but you can sure show that dumbbell who’s boss!

6) Walking

Right foot, left foot.  Repeat.

Physical Benefits:  Walking is an accessible exercise that, depending upon its intensity, can provide cardiovascular training and lower body conditioning.  It is an easy, low impact way to help stave off weight gain.

Mental Benefits:  Walking tells your brain that you’re making progress.  There are times in life when we begin to feel overwhelmed with the daily grind.  Go for walk and you’ll begin to see the place of today in the bigger picture.

7) Running

See “walking,” only faster.

Physical Benefits: Running burns a lot of calories in a short time frame due to its intensity.  It also gives you an excuse to wear itty-bitty shorts in public.

Mental Benefits: When you run, you have to find the rhythm between the body and the breath.  This rhythm extends to the mind as it trains you to breathe deeper and slower when feeling bogged down or facing a challenging hill.

8) Races

There are many types of races: 5K or 10K, running or biking, triathlon or adventure, they all put you in a competition against others or yourself.

Physical Benefits:  Signing up for a race encourages you to train consistently, leading to improved benefits over periodic exercise.

Mental Benefits:  I recommend signing up for a race that takes you just to the edge of your ability when you are facing a challenge in your life.  Whereas most of life’s challenges are messy and may take years to resolve, a race is over in a matter of minutes or hours, yet it gives you the critical feeling of victory over a challenge.  There is nothing so sweet as crossing that finish line.

This is a photograph of the Funky Monkey obsta...

9) Crossfit

Crossfit has taken the world by storm.  It is a group exercise class that consists of a Workout of the Day (WOD) that incorporates strength and cardiovascular moves.

Physical Benefits: Crossfit certainly lives up to its name.  If you can stick with it, it will make you leaner, fitter, and stronger.

Mental Benefits: Perhaps the best part of Crossfit is the community.  Everyone is so supportive of everyone else.  Be prepared for applause and “atta boys” or “girls” when you complete that first pull-up.  If you need to know that others have you back, try visiting a Crossfit gym.

10) Bootcamp

Bootcamp classes are usually held outside and combine plyometric moves along with body weight exercises and a variety of drills.

Physical Benefits: You will be sore all over.  These classes don’t leave a muscle untouched or a sweat gland un-emptied.

Mental Benefits: Bootcamp teaches you to push through those “I can’ts” that our minds love to throw up in defense of effort.  It gives you the mental discipline to work through your problems and see them to the end.

For the most physical and mental benefit, choose more than one type of exercise.  By cross training, you will learn to utilize and synergize your entire boy and mind.

July 2007 CrossFit Trainer certification, Sant...

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