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Self Care Week: A workout a day keeps the doctor away

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As Free Athletes, you already know full well how important it is to exercise and keep your body in peak physical condition, but do you know why it’s so important? What’s the method behind the madness? Most of us don’t train just for fun, what we do has a purpose and, when it comes down to it, that purpose is self-care.

To celebrate Self Care Week, our Training Specialist, John Kennedy, highlights four key reasons why training regularly is about so much more than simply losing weight.

It reduces stress

Any form of physical activity can help relieve stress and frustration. Exercising leads to an increased excretion of the happiness-inducing hormones dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, and to a reduced level of the stress hormone cortisol. The effects of this are not just felt in the moment; exercising regularly over a period of time can mean that these hormones remain at a permanently higher (or lower, in the case of cortisol) level, increasing your resilience to stress.

It comes as no surprise then, that studies have shown that the more frequently somebody works out, the more likely they are to say that exercise helps them cope with stress. Of the people who worked out 2-3 times per week, 46% claim it’s a good stress reliever. And for the people who worked out 4-5 times per week, that percentage jumped to an impressive 64%. “These findings make a lot of sense, as working out after a tough day can be a very effective stress reliever, especially because it boosts those all-important endorphin levels,” says John-Francis Kennedy, the Training Specialist at Freeletics.

It’s clear that the right physical activity contributes to a healthy body and a healthy mind, so it’s vital that exercise is appealing and accessible to everyone. Exercise doesn’t have to take place in a gym or on the football field; it is important to find a workout style that works for you and enables you to harness your stress and use it to boost your performance (this is called eustress). Use your workout as a way to clear your mind and give your body the boost of endorphins it needs to leave you feeling happier.

It can improve your mental health.

Simply put, exercise can be the best antidepressant out there. Take it from John, “As a coach, I have seen people struggle and battle issues of all sorts. We all have our struggles in life and exercise can play a part on our journey to healing not just our physical, but also our mental pain. It certainly helped me along my journey to find more self-confidence and self-esteem.”

The mental health benefits of working out are clear. Of those who exercise, 95% said working out after a bad day made them feel better. Over half (51%) said working out makes them feel more energetic at work. 44% feel more motivated, and 43% feel more clear-headed.

When we exercise, we are forced to focus on the moment, taking us out of our heads and away from the myriad problems and worries that plague us daily. Training offers a respite from our complex modern lives, encouraging us to focus on more primal functions such as breathing and energy conservation.

The science backs this up; studies have proven that regular exercise increases the volume of certain sections of the brain by increasing the blood supply to them. One of the key parts of the brain to benefit from this is the hippocampus which controls the mind’s responses to emotional triggers. A bigger and more active hippocampus therefore makes it easier for us to cope with and process complex emotions, reducing the risk of developing depression.

It’s anti-aging

There is a popular dogma in the fitness industry: “You use it or you lose it.” This applies to muscles, strength, endurance, mobility and flexibility and researchers have convincing evidence that support it. Being strong and mobile now doesn’t guarantee that you will be in a decade’s time. Indeed, Fitness after 40 author, Dr. Vonda Wright, claims that “only 30% of aging is genetic” and that “we control 70% of how we age”. It is therefore important that we are consistent with our exercise habits if we strive for longevity.

According to several studies, regular resistance training is a good way to slow down the physical effects of ageing. As we grow older, our muscles and bones become more fragile; each year after the age of (around) 30, the body loses 1% of muscle mass and gains 0,2% of fat. With weaker bones and muscles, the risk of falling increases and broken bones and injuries become more likely. Training regularly with resistance – i.e. something that forces your muscles to contract and work – will counteract this, ensuring that muscle mass and strength are maintained, and that body fat remains low.

However, training can’t put a halt to all the effects of aging; it’ll inevitably become increasingly difficult to achieve performance improvements, but you needn’t give up on your physical health altogether. Progress can happen in a number of different ways, not merely on a strength and muscular level. For instance, as we get older, endurance levels barely drop off; studies show that 70-year-olds who run regularly are as mobile as sedentary college-age students. Running uses over 70% of the muscles in the body, so doing so regularly can improve overall muscle and bone strength.

It makes you fitter, stronger and healthier…duh

The obvious one and the main reason most of us do regular exercise. Training regularly increases fitness, improves muscular strength and endurance and increases cardiovascular capacity. With frequent exercise, daily activities become that bit easier to complete and we can develop pride in our physical appearance and capacities. There’s no better feeling in the world than beating your PB or completing an exercise you couldn’t do before; getting fit and strong is something we value immensely, whether we are aware of it or not.

Training shouldn’t be something that you have to force yourself to do in order to tick a box on your to-do list. Rather, it can be the ultimate self-care tool, opening the door to physical confidence, mental well-being and even a reversal of the aging process. Take it from us, there’s no better feeling in the world than finding a type of exercise that you enjoy and that you know is doing you the world of good, so take the time to experiment and find the right kind of training for you.

Take care of yourself today...go for a workout! #NoExcuses