By: Alicia McElhaney and Kate Maloney, Campus Recreation Services
We all know that regular exercise offers a ton of health benefits. But sometimes the joy of working out can be overshadowed by our desire to lose weight, bulk up, negate the calories we’ve eaten, or just generally change the way our bodies look.
While the goal of altering our bodies can be a powerful and positive motivator, harboring negative thoughts and perceptions about our bodies can wreak havoc on our self-esteem – and actually derail our fitness plan.
Allow us to suggest an entirely different way of thinking about the “why” behind working out: work out for the way it makes your body feel rather than how it makes your body look.
Here are just a few of the reasons that Terps choose to exercise that have nothing to do with physical appearance …
1. Lifts mood
Elle Woods was right on when she said exercise gives you endorphins. Working out releases chemicals in your brain that can give you a natural mood boost. Don’t you feel happier after some time spent being active?
2. Sharpens memory
Take a study break from drilling flash cards and give your memory a boost by heading to the gym! That’s right; aerobic exercise (think group fitness classes like Zumba, HIIT or high-energy cycling) can actually increase the size of the hippocampus – the part of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning.
3. Boosts immune system
Avoid the flu and cold (and even dodge the viral meningitis spreading around campus) this winter without dousing yourself in sanitizer. Boost your immune system sans chemicals by getting regular physical activity. Not to mention, being active can also prevent big-time diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
4. Improves learning abilities
Beyonce knows it, and now, so do you! Getting down to some of your favorite Queen B tracks in Hip Hop Shake class can actually help you out in your other classes, too. Professor doesn’t believe it? Bring him or her along with you next time and show off your moves. We can’t guarantee it’ll score you any extra credit though …
5. Builds self-esteem
Because who couldn’t use a good self-esteem boost, amiright? Taking charge of your wellness with proactive action can make you feel like you can do just about anything. And give yourself an extra pat on the back for trying something entirely new – maybe a new piece of weight equipment or a group class in the Functional Training Studio. Feeling good about yourself is one just one workout away!
6. Keeps your brain fit
We know this concept of boosting your brain and learning capabilities has already made an appearance or two on this list, but seriously – what can’t fitness do for your brain? We can’t say it enough. Think of exercise as a workout for your body AND your mind.
7. Keeps your body able to do what you want to do
Love to run, backpack, or just want to feel good about taking Stamp hill instead of the elevator shortcut? Make physical activity a regular part of your everyday life and you’ll be able to keep moving and doing what you love – even as you age.
8. Improves mental health
Big smiles all around on this one. While fitness can’t exactly cure depression or anxiety, it is a great tool to use to prevent and manage symptoms. Physical activity can be a beneficial part of a plan to help you feel better – combined with any therapy or treatment from a professional. We also strongly recommend our friends over at the Counseling Center and Mental Health Services. Just like working out, seeking help is a sign of strength, too!
9. Reduces stress
Bathrooms in our residence halls may not be conducive to soaking in a bubble bath, and I’m pretty sure candles are against policy – but you can check out one of our stress-relieving yoga classes to release some of that tension. In fact, nearly any kind of physical activity can help you de-stress.
10. Helps you sleep better
Want a good night of sleep? (Yes, that is actually a thing.) Work out during the day to get some solid Zzzz’s at night! Exercise can increase the length and quality of your sleep – leaving you refreshed and energized to tackle the day ahead. You got this.
11. Improves flexibility
Increasing flexibility is worth more than showing off that you can touch your toes – flexibility helps us do everyday activities with greater ease, like getting out of bed or cleaning our apartments. Most kinds of physical activity and stretching will boost flexibility, but Pilates and Yoga are especially effective if your goal is to become a bit more bendy.
12. Boosts productivity
Feel like you just can’t stop procrastinating? It may seem obvious, but productivity begets more productivity. By getting up and getting moving, it will be easier to propel yourself forward to get that paper done. Exercising in the middle of a work day (or school day) has been shown to boost work performance and time management abilities.
13. Helps you think more creatively
Feeling stuck on an assignment or looking to replenish your well of inspiration for a piece of creative writing? You just might find a new way to approach your project after a workout. Being active in the outdoors seems to be particularly good for getting the creative juices flowing. Check out the opportunities the Maryland Adventure Program offers to get outside – including affordable weekend trips to go hiking, kayaking, climbing, and more.
14. Increases strength.
There’s no denying that building muscle – whether you can see it or not – is an awesome benefit of exercise. No need to ask for help lifting heavy boxes or opening difficult jars – you and your exercise program have got this, thank you very much!
15. Improves sex drive & satisfaction
Exercise offers both physiological and psychological benefits to our sex lives. Working out increases blood flow, boosting sexual arousal for men and women and making sex more pleasurable. And like we mentioned before, exercise enhances our mood and gives us confidence which can make the idea of having sex seem a bit more exciting!
16. Gives you more energy
We know exercise might be the last thing you want to do when you feel worn out – but it really will help you feel more alert and energized. And you don’t need a high-intensity workout to reap the benefits – in fact, low impact workouts (like a 20-minute leisurely walk across campus) has been shown to be just as effective as high intensity workouts at alleviating fatigue.