What is Exercise?

What is exercise? That’s easy. Moving. Burning calories. Being athletic. Getting in shape.

greyhound dog walk

Right! But did you know not all exercise is the same? Yes, some is aerobic and some is sprinting. Some is for strength and some is for flexibility. Some is intense and some is relaxing.

But did you know the benefits you get out of exercise can vary significantly, even if you are doing the same thing as always? Huh?

Yes, how your body responds to your exercise can depend on your state of mind. Imagine how you would feel after these two scenarios of a 5-minute run across a field with a dog…

  1. You and Rex, your loveable rottweiller, set off across the field on a bright sunny day. Happy and care free, you race to keep up as you periodically whip a stick for him when he barks for your attention. When you get across the field you decide to hop up onto a big tree branch to get a panoramic view of the field you just raced across as Rex circles the tree below you.
  2. Standing on the side of a field you suddenly hear a dog barking up the road. Seeing a big rottweiller charging towards you, you desperately race across the field, running for your life. As the dog gets nearer and nearer you frantically throw sticks over your shoulder to distract him. Reaching the trees just before he catches you, you leap up onto a big branch as he barks and leaps at the base of the tree.

Dog walking

Sitting in your tree you would be feeling very different in each case. Which scenario is going to make you healthier? What’s the difference?… Your emotional state. With Rex you’d be invigorated and euphoric looking at the beautiful sunset. With the “death-dog” you would be exhausted and tense all over. Same basic exercise, totally different emotional state.

My point? Your state of mind can make your body be more or less responsive to the benefits of exercise. Hate your gym, hate your instructor, hate getting sweaty, hate missing your TV show… and you won’t get as much benefit out of that class.

Why? Hormones. Your state of mind automatically influences what hormones your body’s glands are secreting (hormones are chemical messengers in the body that act on other cells and tissues in very specific ways). Some hormones are anabolic, they help your body repair and maintain itself. These are growth hormone and the sex hormones, for example. Others are catabolic. They more or less prepare you for battle and shut down some of your body’s repair functions to conserve energy. Think adrenalin and cortisol.

aquafit class at the YMCA

So… Hate your exercise, start to secrete relatively more of the stress hormones and get less benefit out of the class. Can’t wait to get to class, love feelin’ the burn, start secreting those anabolic hormones and get more out of your exercise. It’s that simple.

lifecycles at the YMCA

The bottom line here is to find a form of exercise you will really look forward to. Gym or swim, running or squash, gardening or chopping wood. Whatever gets you motivated. If you look forward to it you will get more out of it.