But I took the stairs!
September 25, 2014

As a clinical psychologist in private practice, one of things I find myself discussing again and again with 95% of the people who sit on my couch is the benefit of exercise.  Research suggests 25% of the population report no leisure-time physical activity! (Weir, 2011). Exercise can have a positive impact on long -term health, reducing anxiety, improving memory and stabilizing your mood.  I am talking about setting aside a specific time, 30-60 minutes, about 3 times per week, to get your heart rate up. When I tell my clients this, most often, I hear an audible groan. “But I took the stairs today!”  While this is a bonus, this is not exactly what I had in mind.  

There are endless reasons to exercise. Some of the benefits of exercise include:
1. Improve sleep. One study of people who exercised regularly for about 10 weeks reported sleeping better than they had previously. 

2. Reduce anxiety. It appears to change the chemistry of the brain by causing the release of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps quiet brain activity and minimize anxiety.

3. Boost immunity: Regular exercise can reduce your risk of certain health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. It can also decrease your chances of developing some common illnesses, such as flus and colds. (According to one recent study, colds lasted 43% longer for people who exercised one time a week or less.)

 4. Decrease PMS. Women often report feeling irritable and bloated before their periods, but exercise appears to minimize these conditions. One survey of close to 2,000 New Zealand women found that those who exercised, rested and wrote in a journal about their symptoms fared better than those who followed other advice.

5. Get you in the mood.  For men, exercise can lower the risk of erectile dysfunction, and it helps both men and women feel good about themselves and their bodies. 

6. Strengthen the brain. It has been found that working out can lessen the severity of memory problems in older adults, and even decrease the risk of diseases like Alzheimer's. It can also have a positive benefit on the brain function of younger people. Exercise has been found to improve certain executive functions in the brain, including planning, memory, reasoning, problem-solving and more.

7. Improve your heart health.  Exercise has been shown to boost high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol and decrease unhealthy triglycerides, which can keep your blood flowing smoothly, decreasing your risk of cardiovascular diseases.

8. Improve your overall mood. Exercise can stimulate the brain to release chemicals, making us feel happier and more relaxed. It can also help you deal with current stress.

9. Fight Depression. Kotz and Haupt (2012) report burning as little as 350 calories three times a week, in a activity which raises your heart rate, can reduce the symptoms of depression. It is possible exercise stimulates the growth of neurons and connections between neurons, acting as a natural anti-depressant. Exercise appears to be a good compliment to the traditional treatment of mild to moderate depression.

10. Improve your body image and self-confidence. Setting small fitness goals and accomplishing them can improve how you feel about yourself. Get moving and you will see an improvement in your satisfaction with yourself. 

11.Bolster you from aging and cognitive declines. Exercise can boost chemicals in the brain that are necessary for memory and learning, which may decline after age 45. 

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/exercise.
Kotz, Deborah & Haupt, Angela (2014, May 7).  7 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise. Retrieved from health.us.news.com/health-news/diet-fitness/slideshows.
Weir, Kristen (2011, December). The exercise effect.  Monitor on Psychology,  42 (11), 48.  Retrieved from www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx