The fitness industry is notorious for emphasizing the importance of physical health and body goals-sometimes even at the expense of the mental health.
This unfortunately misrepresents the power of a fitness journey and the opportunity it gives you to connect with and nurture your body!
We’ve all heard time and time again about the dangers of obesity, the desire to be skinny or the intention to shape the body to make it more attractive to others-and all of these things are valid if they are applicable to you!
But the benefits of working on your fitness goals transcend the physical body and have lasting effects on the psychology-working on your physical health can improve your mental health!
Now briefly: there is a whole branch of nutrition called Psychological Nutrition which studies the treatment of attention and personality disorders through the diet. This is based on the manipulation of neuroreceptors and hormones using food and it is quite fascinating, but to be clear: I am going to be talking about non-tangible psychological benefits of exercise and a healthy diet.
To learn more about medicinal or psychological nutrition, schedule a consultation with a Nutrition Coach.
Now that we’re clear on that, let’s get into our Top 3 Ways That Fitness Impacts Mental Health:
1: Working on fitness goals builds your self-efficacy!
Self-efficacy is your own belief in your ability to accomplish things, and this is our favorite thing about fitness…
You are going to prove to yourself that you can do things you never imagined you could!
That may be losing weight, performing a pull up or eliminating your favorite junk food from your diet.
No matter what it is, you are going to end up doing something you told yourself you never would, and it’s going to change your future perspective about your abilities to achieve!
This is important because the more self-efficacy you have, the more you believe that you can achieve, and the more you actually believe that you can achieve, the more likely you are to do so.
Self-efficacy is especially valuable to people who have recovered from injury because often times the experience that caused the injury is traumatic and damages a person’s trust in their body. For example, a person who has tripped, fallen and broken their arm may feel nervous to step up even 3 inches without holding on to something because they are plagued with the memory and pain of having fallen before. Gently encouraging yourself to pursue appropriate physical challenges can help you overcome post-traumatic fears and rebuild self-efficacy in your body’s capabilities! (Note: please seek the professional help of either a physical therapist or personal trainer when returning to exercise post-injury so as to be sure that you don’t re-injure yourself! Get tips from our trainers here in your complimentary initial appointment.)
2: Trekking through fitness journeys helps you affirm your safety!
Disclaimer: this goes for the achievement of healthy fitness goals, not goals that drive people towards eating disorders and obsessive workout behaviors.
Addressing fitness goals requires you to get in touch with your body, listen to it, learn about it and respond to it.
This is as true about a strength-building goal as it is for the goal to eat to manage diabetes.
Building a strong connection to your body so that you can determine what it needs and provide that, helps to affirm your feelings of safety.
On a fitness journey you often learn about your body’s fatigue, pain, hunger, nutrient needs, weaknesses, strengths, etc. and you essentially try to respect, nurture or train them.
You’re basically learning, practicing and proving your ability to keep yourself alive and safe, and that affords you a sense of grounding that nothing else does!
#3: Fitness goals help you feel confident in your independence!
To be alone in something (living, struggling, working, etc.) can be an uncomfortable experience for some people-either because they’re simply used to always being with people, or because they’ve experienced something that’s caused them to feel unsafe when alone.
Either way, your fitness program can help with your confidence in expressing your independence.
Inevitably you will be doing some form of strength and conditioning along your fitness journey, and this alone will allow you to feel more capable doing some of the tasks that you might otherwise need help with such as opening pickle jars, carrying groceries and reaching high shelves.
On the nutrition side of things, fitness goals will pressure you into becoming more independent in things such as learning about how to store produce, practicing cooking and meal prepping, and learning about nutrient needs.
These skills are valuable to people who typically tend to have other around them for help and assistance such as family members or significant others, as it will eliminate some of the ways in which they feel they are lacking without the presence of another.
The independence skills learned in fitness are also important for those who struggle being alone because of dealing with something traumatic such as disease or abuse. For example: a person who has a bad experience with medical treatment and chooses to manage their disease naturally, or someone else who manages their abuse trauma by learning self-defense. In both instances, you are helping to heal your trauma by building these skills and improving your feeling of grounding in yourself without having to depend on anyone else.
A recurring theme we’ve mentioned here is grounding because, in so many ways, we believe that to be the biggest benefit of exercise.
This benefit tends to be especially significant to women: we are often raised to subconsciously view our bodies as objects to be approved by others, and we are taught that we are the weaker, delicate and sensitive gender.
Understanding your strength and capabilities, finding value in your bodies beyond other people’s opinions of it, and asserting your power helps root you and creates a sense of belonging and safety that nourishes the ability to heal the mental health.
Even if you don’t want to focus on changing your body, you can absolutely use your fitness journey to contribute to other aspects of your health-even your mental health!
Your fitness journey can and should be what you need it to be for you to achieve your best level of health, balancing all aspects of health and wellness!
Remember: you are always worth it!
This was written by Elexis Smolak CPT, CNC, founder of Adapted Fitness and Master Trainer. Learn more or schedule a virtual coffee at AdaptedToYou.com