We all hear about the physical benefits of working out: weight loss, better circulation, physical fitness... but what happens in our heads as we get moving?
Here are several lessons and benefits that can come from physical activity, and they aren't all physical!
There's a lot our body can do that we just haven't unlocked yet. Physical fitness, when done correctly, pushes you to do more than you may think you can, but you also have to be extremely aware of your own body or you risk injury. You have to pace yourself and know exactly how much you can handle with every kind of physical activity. The mental awareness developed in steady workouts is something that can be carried day-to-day, and help with studies, setting personal boundaries, and more.
Goal-setting and orientation
Working out makes you think about what you are doing, and also why you are doing it. You aren't going to lift as much as you can unless you are trying to bulk up. You aren't going to focus on cardio if you aren't trying to drop weight, and you aren't going to only lift dumbbells if you want more range of motion; so you set goals. You want to lift a certain amount, obtain a certain physique, or be able to do a new skill. Once you have a goal in mind, your workouts are oriented around reaching those goals. This is a similar structure you can take with studying, career paths, and more. You aren't going to drop 100 pounds in a month, you're going to focus on dropping 20, then another, then another, until you've reached 100. Instead of writing 15 pages in a day, you'd break it up over the course of five days and write three pages per day.
Strengthens your perseverance
It's frustrating not reaching goals or accomplishing what we think we should, so we keep working. Running one mile when you haven't ran in a year sucks, but when you've been running for a year a mile goes by in a blink. Calculus, or algebra, or physics suck if you don't understand the assignment. You practice one formula, then several, then you get through a unit and you're on your way to a marathon! Small amounts of progress are encouraging, and soon you find you're on your way to a whole new goal because you've achieved what you thought you couldn't.
Teaches patience and self-care
This is similar to perseverance, but in a slightly different aspect. Patience allows you to keep pushing when you feel low, but it also teaches you to be gentle with yourself. You wouldn't yell at yourself for dislocating something, breaking a bone, or pulling a muscle - you'd care for it until it's healed, and then teach it how to be strong again. This is a very valuable lesson when handling mental health as well. Your motivation gets you through the last rep, and it can get you through an episode of depression, anxiety, or more.
Everyone wants to live up to the physical standard they have set for themselves. They want to be a certain weight, or have visible muscles, or something similar. Getting there gives you so much power, but it's also great to be confident before you reach your goals. I'm no gym rat or personal trainer, so when I'm working out it's a prime example of 'fake it till you make it'. I try to do what I think is right and eventually I can do an actual rep on one of the machines, and then I can do a full set. It takes practice, and maybe a bit of trial and error, but confidence lifts the anxiety those unknowns would usually present.
Working out comes with a lot of firsts, and bests: the first time you hit the gym, your first full set, your first personal best, the first time you max out, and the first time you reach a goal you set. You then have to set new goals, and this is a skill developed through practice. So you've lost 100 pounds (ridiculous example by the way and that is so not necessary unless you want to) but do you keep losing weight or do you try for muscle? Do you want to be flexible? Fast? Then it's time to set a new goal!
Teaches routine and habit
Organizing a workout regimen can be a chore. It's complicated. You don't want to do too much in one day, you don't want to have two leg days too close together, and you can't neglect your core. Do you have time to fit it all in? Having a routine will help you form a habit of being active regularly, and it helps you practice setting a schedule both in and outside of the gym. It fosters organization and this will ease anxiety in and out of the weight room.
There are many benefits to working out, but these are a few ways I have noticed working out impacting my mental habits. This also doesn't discuss the many ways exercise can affect your mental health, but we'll save that for another time. For now, let's just remember how self-growth can come in many forms, and lessons can come from any source.