Jan 1, 2024
Body & Soul

The Mind-Muscle Connection

The dawn of a new year brings with it the hope and aspiration of transformation. It’s a brief time for some, where motivation and intention forge together with renewed strength! At the height of this union of superpowers, fitness goals, more often than not, top the list of resolutions we are determined to crush. Typically, the reasons we list are pretty superficial — toned legs and a smaller waist (the list can be long). It’s easy to gloss over the treasure trove of mental benefits physical activity provides. The mental perks of exercise can be crucial for navigating the year ahead with positivity and resilience!

There is a distinct connection between moving our bodies and mental well-being. Regular exercise isn’t just a tool used to sculpt our bodies but also our minds. Our feel-good hormones — endorphins — are released with physical activity, boosting our mood, combating stress and giving us a renewed sense of overall well-being. Let’s also recognize that including exercise in daily activities can significantly help stamp out the post-holiday blues. It is proven exercise reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Additionally, exercise enhances cognitive function. Physical activity improves concentration, sharpens memory and quickens learning, whether it’s a brisk morning walk or a yoga session. Being active curbs cognitive decline related to aging, reduces the chances of developing dementia and improves overall quality of life. Embracing exercise can be pivotal in not only achieving our fitness goals but also keeping us sharp — in a nutshell, we can tout exercise as making us smarter!

Mary Hawkins is an avid 5:00 a.m. daily fitness enthusiast.

“Exercise for me every day sets the tone,” she said. “It allows me to clear my head and gives me the feeling I can take on my day confidently. It gets my day started right and helps reduce all the stress that may come my way on any given day.”

The transformative power of exercise also lies in its ability to foster self-esteem and resilience. Each time we push through a challenging workout or beat our personal best, we’re not just building muscle; we’re building mental fortitude. This inner strength is invaluable as we face daily challenges and strive towards our goals.

In this journey of resolution, let’s not forget the power of social connections. Group fitness classes or team sports offer a sense of community, support, and belonging, which can be vital for our mental health. As we sweat together, we grow together, finding motivation and encouragement in our shared fitness endeavors.

A recent study in Japan in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics found people who exercised alone twice or more weekly decreased their risk of developing impaired thinking or learning skills by more than 15%. However, those who exercised with other people twice or more weekly showed nearly double the decrease.

As we enter the new year, let’s remember that our journey toward fitness is not just a physical but a mental quest. The discipline, determination and dedication we apply to our exercise routine can transform our mental landscape, empowering us to face life with renewed vigor and vitality. So, as you lace up your sneakers or unroll your yoga mat, remember that with each step, stretch or stride, you’re moving toward a healthier body and a healthier mind.