Well-Being//

A Healthier State of Mind: Can Exercise Act as a Form of Therapy?

When we reframe the way we see working out, we can reap its physical advantages, and its mood-boosting benefits.

Umpaporn/Shutterstock
Umpaporn/Shutterstock

Many have differing conceptions and misconceptions regarding exercise and fitness. I myself am passionate about it, and I believe that developing a love for fitness is a matter of changing one’s approach. When people think of exercise the first thought that emerges is that it cannot and should not be fun, nor should it be something enjoyable on a day-to-day basis. Those who think that way should reflect on the patterns of thought or experience that have cemented their pejorative approach to fitness and exercise. It is what I have done, and it has turned my whole life around, like so.

We are all aware of how physical activity can drastically benefit our health and reduce the risk of developing several fatal complications, such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases (Small. D., 2010). Over the years, extensive research on the benefit of exercise and its long-term perks have been consistently proven, emphasizing that with the right amount of consistency and moderation, one can reap the proper benefits. With all of these undeniable benefits, it is natural to wonder why someone wouldn’t want to fit an hour or two of exercise into their schedule? It is a question I have asked myself, and in order to answer it, I’ve had to ponder on what exercise or fitness truly meant to me and what I personally enjoyed about performing physical activity. 

A couple of years ago, I had a revealing conversation with a friend of mine, regarding how exercise made us feel during and after a workout. He compared the post-exercise sensation to how therapy made him feel. And I related to that. I have always been fascinated with the intermingling of physical and mental wellbeing; I’ve been especially intrigued by the natural approaches taken by some to reach that level of balance. Anyone who has ever lifted weights or run a marathon is well aware of the riveting and instantaneous feeling of endorphin circulating through their nervous system. Lightheadedness, quickly chased with a sensation of pleasure, makes us feel uplifted. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA called this the transient state. It is an overwhelming state, but also one of utter pleasure and ecstasy. (Small. D., 2010)

Endorphins are considered to be the body’s very own natural antidepressant. In this state of transient pleasure, the body will also tend to release other chemicals such as serotonin, that help uplift one’s mood. I can attest to the fact that any type of exercise calms me down. It is a moment of absolute control, among the many things in my life I do not have control over. Exercise is like therapy to me, from the moment I enter the gym. When I leave, I leave with it all of my troubles and worries. People always ask me whether I would start from scratch again, even if it meant losing all my progress. The answer is: yes. I explain that the physical attributes are no longer my focus — if they were, I would, like the majority of people who do not see immediate results, get easily discouraged. By simply changing one’s mindset and approach, one could not only reach one’s physical goals, but also something greater. A greater height of inner peace. It is a life-changer.

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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