Even though diet culture has tried to convince people that the sole goal of exercise is to get that "summer body," there is so much more to working out than ticking off an unrealistic resolution. There are so many reasons to exercise — physical health benefits, mental health boosts, and simply enjoying getting out and listening to a playlist among them. These people shared with Bustle how exercising makes them feel — and how they're squelching the idea that incorporating fitness into their routine is all about "staying in shape" (whatever that means, anyways).
Research has shown that there are countless benefits of working out when it comes to your mental health and wellness. It can boost your mood and ability to focus, protect you against neurological health issues such as dementia, help you sleep more soundly, and overall improve your cognitive health. The positive impact exercise can have on health doesn't just apply to the folks going on five mile runs, or people who live off of burpees. Studies show that just walking can help you beat fatigue and symptoms of depression by releasing feel-good endorphins, and can even improve creativity, as well as blood flow to your brain.
There are tons of ways working out can encourage wellness. These eight people shared with Bustle the reasons they exercise and all the benefits they gain from it.
1. Nicole, 23
Nicole, an occupational therapy graduate student, tells Bustle, "I love cardio kickboxing! Any emotion I’m feeling is always replaced by positive feelings after this class. It really helps me get my feelings out, even though I’m only punching, kicking, or jabbing the air."
2. Michael, 22
"I exercise because not only does it make feel good overall, but it helps me clear my mind, and relieve any stress that I may have," says Michael, a U.S. marine.
3. Kelli, 40
"I exercise an excessive amount compared to most people. I do it because I enjoy Ironman [triathlon] races so I have to push my limits to be able to compete at that level," says Kelli, an assistant academic director. "It gives me goals, direction, confidence, amazing camaraderie, and mental health help like nothing else."
4. Aubri, 32
Aubri, a child development director, says, "My therapist pointed out once that walks and runs are bilateral stimulation, much like is used in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and that taking a walk or a jog can help with trauma reprocessing.
She adds that, "That is why I exercise — right there. It helps me fight back against PTSD."
5. Polly, 45
"Running clears my head, weightlifting reminds me I’m not weak. Reaching goals in both areas reminds me I can do awesome things — not just in fitness, but in all areas of life," explains Polly, a nurse.
"Exercise helps me remember that my body, despite its health issues, is capable of some pretty f*cking fabulous shit," she says. "Like, I can climb mountains! It might take me longer than most, but I can do it. [...] Exercise helps me focus on what I can do, versus things that limits me."
6. Mirror, 28
Mirror, an activist, says, "I have chronic pain, and doing consistent, simple exercise helps my energy levels. Light weightlifting helps me build muscle without causing more damage, which helps as well."
"I'm less anxious when I'm active, too," he says.
7. Jaymo, 32
"Exercise reminds me of the importance of physical health. As a counselor, I often become preoccupied with mental and emotional health when in reality, health is holistic and all aspects are equally vital," says Jaymo, a social worker. "Exercise is a productive outlet for stress and anxiety. [...] Regardless of what you're doing or who you're with, I've found just moving your body can be incredibly therapeutic, which is why awkward dance parties happen in my bathroom on a regular basis!"
8. Kat, 31
"For me the biggest thing that helped with integrating fitness this last year was to stop looking at the scale," says Kat, an office administrator. "Not looking at the numbers so obsessively, and really just focusing on what I knew were healthier behaviors — such as walking, aerobics, and being mindful of what I was fueling my body with — led to a much healthier me."
For many people, fitness can be a form of self-care. Despite the messages many of us receive from social media, exercise should be about what personally feels good and healthy for you — whether that's running in races, hitting the gym, or just going for a walk in fresh air.