Wellbeing and exercise
Exercise can help us to re-establish our lost mental and physical equilibrium. Numerous medical and scientific studies highlight the connection between physical exercise, brain activity and body health.
Inner wellbeing, physical health and self-perception are three factors that are all closely connected. When we feel stable, our lives are calm and we are physically healthy, our self-perception changes. When we feel good we also feel more comfortable in our bodies, physically and mentally. We have a more positive vision of ourselves and we tend to be less critical of what we see as our “flaws”.
On the other hand, when we are particularly stressed, all our attention is focused outside ourselves and our lifestyle habits reflect the busy rhythms we are forced to follow. We tend to seek every possible comfort, we reduce our movements to a minimum to optimise our energy and we feel less in harmony with our body.
After all, we are animals, and exercise is fundamental for keeping our minds and bodies connected. Physical exercise helps re-establish this connection when we feel we have lost it.
The importance of exercise for your physical health
From a medical and scientific perspective, exercise brings the body a series of incredible benefits. It maintains muscle tone and stimulates blood oxygenation. It can be a great help in preventing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, and it also offers valid support for depressive symptoms and states of anxiety.
In numerous cases a small daily dose of exercise can be a lifesaver, especially at a time when our lives have shrunk, and our habits have been suspended and replaced by new, temporary habits that include spending all our time at home.
Exercise is an excellent way of guaranteeing an equilibrium between mind and body.
Exercise acts on mood disorders
Exercise is a useful ally in combating states of anxiety. This is because moving the body can help loosen “fight or fly” brain mechanisms that are common in people suffering from anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Physical exercise automatically generates physical changes, like a faster heartbeat and increased sweating that people with anxiety disorders often associate with fear. Regular physical activity can help weaken this mental association, and reinforce the association between these factors and physical exercise, instead.
But not only: regular exercise can have a beneficial effect on your state of mind, by increasing the production of a protein called Brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF that contributes to neuron growth. A medical study conducted in 2002 even detected a connection between regular physical activity and brain mass size.
There is no end to the benefits of exercise. The International Journal of Exercise Science recently published a study conducted on a sample of 20 healthy, but inactive adults, and an eleven-minute-long, bodyweight workout with no special equipment that could be done even in a restricted space, like the home. The aim of this study was to assess the impact of circumscribed physical exercise on the general physical conditions of the body.
Half of the participants were asked to do this workout three times a week, while the other half acted as a control group by continuing with their lives without changing anything.
After seven weeks, the 20 participants were analysed and the result of the study showed that the people who had trained with the workout every week were better toned and their endurance had increased, as had their leg power. Whereas, as expected, nothing changed in the control group.
Even if these results may seem obvious, the study puts down on paper what we had always thought. Namely, that even a brief session of daily exercise can make a big difference, in the long-term, too.
Everyone has their own way of exercising
A walk in the country, an hour of yoga, a wild dance in front of the mirror, a weight-lifting session: everyone has their own way of exercising. Despite the differences between these activities, whether they are aerobic or anaerobic, a sport or a simple walk in the park, all exercise follows a precise, innate instinct. The instinct that drives our arms and legs to move in the way they know exactly how to. Our brain establishes a close connection between movement and learning. But not only: between movement and all our cognitive functions. Just think of one of the main consequences of exercise on our body. Increasing the flow of blood, increases the quantity of oxygen carried to the brain and the more oxygen there is in the brain, the better it works.
So, we can try to recover the connection with this instinct for movement that is innate in us and simply follow it, letting our body guide us and teach us things about it that we still do not know.
Gretchen Reynolds, “An 11-Minute Body-Weight Workout With Proven Fitness Benefits”, in NYT Jan 13 2021
Eric Jensen, Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Sale Books, 2005 (2nd ed.)
Srini Pillay, “How simply moving benefits your mental health”, in Harvard MD School Health Publishing Mar 28 2016
Anderson, Eckburg, & Relucio, “Alterations in the thickness of motor cortical subregions after motor-skill learning and exercise” in National Lirary of Medicine Jan-Feb 2002.