If your only physical activity is running through the six with your woes, or the only marathon you’ve ever finished involves a Netflix account, you’re missing out on more than just the physical rewards that come from regularly working out.
According to psychology professor Will Huggon, the neurological processes that occur when we maintain a healthy active lifestyle influence our mood, academic performance, and overall quality of life for the better.
Working out not only relaxes our mind and body, but it can also prevent negative moods from arising, reduce anxiety, and counter depression.
“Exercise releases the neurotransmitter endorphin, the primary purpose of which is to inhibit the transmission of pain signals and produce a feeling of euphoria,” says Huggon in an email interview. In other words, it reduces stress and activates your body’s metaphorical “chill pill”.
But it doesn’t stop there—exercise can also foster new brain cell growth through a process called neurogenesis. Huggon explains that the hippocampus is the learning and memory centre of the brain and is especially receptive to new neuron growth in response to exercise. The good news for you is that by going to the gym, you can boost both your booty and your GPA at the same time. Unless you just go there to procrastinate—then shame on you.
Double shame on you if you’ve already thrown in the towel for your fitness resolutions for the New Year. But Huggon says you’re not alone. “Research shows that people try five times in a row before succeeding in lasting at least six months on a resolution. On a given New Year’s Eve, among those who make resolutions and fail, 60 percent will resolve to attempt the same self-change next year,” he says.
Many people focus on the end goal of their self-change, whether it’s losing 20 pounds or gaining a six-pack. But how you maintain that goal is more important that achieving the goal itself, Huggon advises.
What it boils down to is realistic planning, which may make you more likely to stick with your goal. Just imagining the start and end of your goal without knowing how long it will take or the steps needed will most likely not lead to the fulfillment of this objective.
“If you don’t have the necessary information to predict a result, then you’re more liable to quit because you don’t know how to achieve those goals, just that you want them,” says Huggon.
However, once you have a realistic game plan, the next step is to formulate habits to stay committed. Most importantly, according to Huggon, “keep everything in mind as to why you’re doing it, and then stick to it for at least four weeks, which is the time it takes to form a habit”. But if you’re like me and the only thing that holds your interest at the fitness centre is the TV, then it might be time to try alternative ways of staying active, like going for a spin or yoga class. Additionally, getting friends to join you can also increase the likelihood of seeing your goal to the end.
But in my case, when I say friends, I’m referring to my pals Ben and Jerry. It’s not called cheating; it’s called positive reinforcement. And according to Huggon, rewarding myself with something I love in moderation after a workout works great to reinforce the exercise habits I want to continue—although I’m sure he would advocate for healthier options than ice cream.
Regarding being satisfied with life, healthy personal relationships and self-care appear to be two main factors that are essential ingredients. However, Huggon feels students may misplace these values, and talks about how he often sees so many students come through his office feeling burnt out as they prepare for grad or medical school.
“When I ask them why they want to do that, they say that it’s to have a good job and life. Well the answer, it seems, is to have a good life—not in the future, but right now,” he says.
In other words, the real key to success isn’t cocoa butter—sorry, DJ Khaled. But, as Huggon suggests, it’s in finding a balance between work and life—in preparing for the future and for living well in the present.
The upcoming MoveU Motivator event, taking place this Friday, is a perfect opportunity to start and build some healthy exercise habits by trying anything from Pilates to Tabata and Zumba, all in sets of mini-instructional classes.
Healthy active living has a multitude of rewards, but ultimately it comes down to the hard work you’re willing to invest in maintaining your physical and mental wellbeing. So as you painfully trudge up every one of those stairs in the RAWC after leg day, just remind yourself that it is worth it. Or if that doesn’t work, think of the cafeteria you’re one step closer to.