Exercise hasn’t always been a big part of my life. A long-time hater of fitness, I only began exercising after seeing some highly unflattering photos of myself from a beach vacation in 2004. While my early progress helped motivate me to work out, I’d have never been able to stick with an exercise habit if I hadn’t discovered the social benefits of exercise.
We all know that exercise is good for the body, but I love what it does for my mind even more. My workouts make me stronger in the gym, but they also make me a better human. I realize this makes me sound like a total sap, but the science backs me up on this.
Most of the social benefits of exercise are intrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards are those that come from within, and they’re especially powerful for weight loss. Compared to extrinsic rewards (like compliments or new clothes), intrinsic rewards are thought to be much more important in building healthy habits that last.
If that alone hasn’t convinced you to lace up your sneakers, let’s look at a few of these social benefits of exercise:
I recently had an item on my to-do list that seemed impossible. Despite being fully qualified to handle this task, I was paralyzed by dread and self-doubt. After hours of procrastination, I had a thought:
“That workout today was f$cking terrible and I wanted to quit 8 times, but I made it. I’ve got this.”
Exercise gives you grit and perseverance. Good workouts, personal bests, and gym attendance streaks make you feel like you can take on the world. This is a feeling you can channel when you’re nervous for big presentations, medical procedures, visits from your in-laws, or other high-pressure situations.
Speaking of high-pressure situations, I NEVER handle non-urgent annoyances on a rest day. I haven’t conducted a formal study, but I’d say I’m roughly 800% more likely to bite someone’s head off on a rest day than on a gym day.
Exercise causes the brain to produce stress-relieving chemicals called endorphins. It can also indirectly lower stress by improving sleep quality and quantity. As such, exercise is helpful for acute stressors like phone calls with the cable company, but also for chronic stressors like caring for aging relatives (1, 2).
Some of the most interesting people I know are moms, but I didn’t feel particularly interesting in my first few years of motherhood. After leaving the workforce to stay at home, I struggled with finding things to talk about beyond diaper blowouts and homemade baby food recipes. Exercise changed that.
I’ll admit to becoming a bit of a cliché when it comes to my love for CrossFit. Perhaps you’ve heard the joke:
“How can you tell if someone does CrossFit?”
“Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”
Sooooo guilty (thank you, non-gym friends, for putting up with me).
BUT: Exercise is something that I do just for me. It gives me a sense of identity. I try not to bore my non-gym friends with workout play-by-plays, but I love having something to talk about other than my kids and the weather.
It can be difficult to make friends as an adult, and exercise is a great way to find your tribe.
I’ve met some of my very best friends at the gym. They’ve seen me at my best and also at my worst. We cheer each other on, we corral each other’s kids, and we help each other in times of need.
The connections I’ve made through exercise extend beyond the gym. I’ve met amazing mama friends through Facebook running groups and had some awesome conversations in the starting corrals of Spartan races.
Even more than races and fun barbell workouts, these connections have made it easy for me to make a habit of exercise.
Have you heard the saying, “You can’t draw from an empty well”?
It’s difficult to be a productive member of society when you’re not taking good care of yourself.
My 60-minute sweat sessions (plus the 30 minutes of silence to and from the gym) are therapeutic. They make me feel calmer, more focused, and more positive about my days.
Even when my days go completely off the rails (and that happens frequently), I have my morning workouts. It’s self-indulgent and healthy and I love every minute.
What about you, friends? Have you experienced any of these social benefits of exercise? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.