I was having a slow morning. I felt crabby and awkward. Stunted even. I was having one of those silent arguments in my head where I wanted to be doing something else, but my brain told me to shut up and “work”.
My efficient self has had this argument so many times with my puritan self.
What I mean is, the “traditional” element of my brain thinks you must put in the allocated (or maximum) amount of time into working. I am guessing this is due to the many years in education we all have to sit through.
But, the fact is – that just doesn’t work for me. I am far more efficient if I already feel like I’ve achieved. Or if I have already completed that other, non-work task that I feel is hanging over me. I am much more likely to stay focused if I have the space in my head to allow me to relax.
So, I went for a run. Not a long one, just short of 2 miles. And I was back at my desk, showered and with a cup of (decaf) coffee within thirty minutes of putting my trainers on.
I feel happier and much more settled. I’ll get to the point – there are so many practical ways which exercise helps us if we incorporate it in our lives. I’m not talking about scientific or biological reasons (necessarily), I mean things we can just know – simply by listening to our bodies.
So I thought I’d list some (gotta love those lists!)…
1. It makes you happy
Or at least happier. Even if it’s difficult, it always makes you feel better than before you did it, right? This is down to endorphins and other biology stuff (technical terms), but it also means you’ve achieved something. You could be having the worst day – nothing going right at work or the kids not listening – but if you can hit that target or beat that time, you’ve accomplished something. You’ve taken control. Woop – go you!
2. You have more energy
This still blows my mind. On paper, I don’t believe it. But I have proven it to myself over and over. If I am tired, the best way for me to deal with it (assuming sleep isn’t an option) is to do some exercise. I don’t know if it’s the whole “change is as good as a rest” thing, or oxygen being pumped around your body, or what – but it’s real.
3. It helps you sleep
So long as you don’t do it a few hours before bed time, it definitely helps with sleep. This could be because you are physically tired instead of just mentally or emotionally tired. Or it could be because your body understands more obvious cues. What I mean is, if there are bigger differences between the peaks and troughs of your activity, maybe your body finds that easier to know when you’ve actually stopped. For example, my sleep tracker (back to that Garmin device…), sometimes starts tracking my sleep if I sit down at 9pm and don’t move much (I know, what a slob!). Maybe opening the gap between active and rest makes things easier for our bodies to regulate and know when we are “ready” to sleep?
4. It is great for getting new ideas
I find if I have a mental block about something, the best thing to do is go for a walk, run, cycle or do T25. It makes me see things from a different perspective, see different paths and possibilities. I’m not one of those “best ideas in the shower” gals, I need to be running, jumping or otherwise suitably distracted and engaged for the really golden ideas to hit me.
5. You have more confidence
Feeling better in your skin thanks to regular exercise is a great thing. Feeling self conscious or feeling like you can’t get away with wearing those jeans is a thing of the past. I don’t know if this is a mirage and you just feel happier on the whole or if you feel more toned and generally more together – probably a combination. Don’t get me wrong, there are still outfits I wouldn’t inflict on the world, but there aren’t as many as there used to be…
6. You’re more likely to eat properly
This isn’t to say that I have a strict diet – I really don’t. But when I exercise, I don’t just eat less, I eat differently. Sometimes, I just want to eat protein – whether that’s a piece of chicken or a handful (read: entire bag) of nuts. Sometimes I just want carbs. Even if I don’t make the best choices to meet these needs, I forgive myself quite easily – I’m active and I’ll work off any crisps or peanuts I should or shouldn’t have.
7. Healthy competition
Whether you’re competing with yourself or other people, it’s very healthy. Competition is how we break new ground. Seeing results is the best form of motivation. I think humans are selfish and shortsighted creatures – if we don’t see a result or a payoff, we won’t continue. Sure, some people have more patience and stamina than others. But ultimately, if there’s no way to measure success, we just aren’t interested. We might see those results in our own bodies, or we might gauge success by higher scores, better climbs or better times. Whatever the measure, progress makes you feel good.
8. It’s sociable
Even if you exercise alone, having hobbies means you have something to talk about with new and existing friends. If you exercise with a group, even better! We are social animals and sometimes we forget how isolated we can become sat at our desks, on our phones, staring at the TV, etc. We need people – real ones – without them, we’ll just stagnate.
So there you go. It’s not just science telling us to go and have a ten minute walk or more. If you listen, your body will tell you what it needs…