T Nation

The myriad benefits of exercise

I believe everyone on this forum knows about the many physical benefits of exercise ie better health, athletic performance enhancement, greater strength, and improved aesthetics. However, I find myself primarily using exercise for another reason; emotional management. I am a mental health professional by trade, and one of my first recommendations to anyone I treat is to engage in exercise. Personally, I find distinct differences in the types of exercise I engage in and the resulting emotions that accompany them.

For instance, the act of lifting heavy weights clearly raises my arousal levels for extended periods of time. I feel like I can crush boulders with a bear-hug, and this lends force and confidence to me in my personal and professional lives. Conversely, when I am extremely stressed, I find that aerobic exercise acts like a combination of Valium and Paxil for me, calming my thoughts and clearing away any fog of sadness or depression. I love to play tennis, and competitive nature of this game, or any other sport I play, combines the feelings of the other 2 types of exercise I engage in. I am well aware of the biological basis of these phenomena, but I was interested in polling the forum to see what your thoughts, experiences, and opinions were on this subject.

The ability to move fluidly like an animal. I know this sounds bizarre, but when you have two big dogs who always want to play fight, it’s incredible being able to leap up into the air, land on all fours, and tackle those furry punks.

Or if I have the unlucky venture of requiring the use of public transit, I can keep myself entertained by grabbing onto the iron bars to swing around like a monkey! Bus monkeys rule.

I’ve never lifted weights to boost my confidence (never thought of that). But when I’m stressed, like you, I do aerobic exercise, and I’m furious, and I feel my blood boiling, it turns anaerobic. I unleash hell on my wavemaster punching bag. When I get an energy rush, I find it hard to sit still, so I tend to do crazy stuff, like kicking walls, going into handstands, running around, etc.

going to the gym for emotional management? that’s a damn good reason if you ask me. maybe you need to write a book and tell other people about this - you know, the ones that close the bars and eat “comfort food” to cope with their stress and anxiety. in the end, we might get a new generation of fit, healthy, energetic and emotional-stable people who’ve got a lot of their life under control. but, it may be a bit unlikely since kfc announced their new healthy deep-fried trans-fatty acid-saturated chicken rectum pot pie.

i have a lot of reasons for going to the gym - and outside the obvious ones of getting healthy and strong, i’m really calm and focused at the gym. its become a sort of temple for me (ha - i’ve found my happy place). i was once studying to become a professional musician, practicing hours on end with intense concentration and focus, and i find that at the gym i can recenter myself and find that same mindset. and if there are problems plaguing me beforehand, i usually find myself with some answers to them after i finish working out, or i’m able to see the problem in a new and objective way. furthermore, nothing is more relaxing than taking a peek at the hoochie on the stairmaster whose lycra bodysuit thong creeps deeper and deeper with each step. i’m almost ready to start a pool everytime i go to see how many floors she reaches before it completely disappears.

Perhaps the main reason I lift is to look strong and be strong. I like having the intimidation factor of size, yet being able to back the image up if need be. Lifting also is a conduit for pent-up anger, stress, and irritation from the day/week. Rather than blowing up on somebody or breaking something, I focus myself on bettering my body. The greatest feeling is finally hitting the zone where nothing else matters but powering through the next set; beating the weights by pure mental focus and physical strength.



I lift because I am vain. LOL

I want to look aaaaaaaaaawesome.

Grea post, I like to do a few sets of relatively heavy exercises through out the day to stimulate the CNS. Definitely makes me feel better all day and more efficient.

High rep snatches and swings with a kettlebells defintiely help me wind down when I am felling super aggressive which is pretty much all the time :wink:

Mike Mahler

Great thread! I’ve though about this before too. Is there such a thing as exercise therapy? There totally should be, it’s helped me immeasurably.

For me, lifting weights has always been my form of calming meditation. I’ve always thought of meditation as just purely living in the moment, not thinking about your job or your finances or any other of your problems, it’s just focusing on the hear and now and just being and breathing. So when I go to the gym, I just focus on my breathing and the weights, and everything else fades away. When it’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that, I get totally stressed out and irritable, and I can’t sleep nearly as well.

The other thing I do is play team sports, which has been positive for me in so many ways. I started by just playing pick up, which besides the challenge of playing a brand new sport, involved trying to succeed socially in a totally new environment of people who mostly knew each other. Coming out of that successfully (in terms of playing the sport well and interacting socially) was a huge confidence builder for me. And it’s another way to just be, your whole mind and body turns into a thing of action, like an animal in the wild. It’s such an exhilarating feeling to just sink into that zone on a regular basis! And you also get in ridiculously good shape. I don’t mean good shape like being strong, I mean being able to charge up 3 flights of stairs two at a time and not even be slightly winded. That’s a great feeling too, it makes you feel really alive. Of course, if I had no athletic aptitude and no desire to get in shape, things might not have faired so well.

For me athletics are the starting point for everything positive in my life. Without them everything else seems to fall to pieces, I get totally negative, and I can’t do anything well. With them, it’s like I’m charged with energy and everything I do is permeated with a positive energy that cannot be stopped.
It also makes me want to eat the right foods, because I know I need to do everything right to perform better on the field and in the gym.

In contrast though, I had a girlfriend who played sports with me, and she had a lot of mental problems. She was never diagnosed, but I would say she was verging on manic depressive, and definitely had severe insecurity problems. For her, sports would really make it worse because she couldn’t stop torturing herself about how badly she played. She would go for a while and then get totally turned off, thinking she sucked and berating herself afterwords for hours about how bad she was, until eventually she’d just stop going. Basically she was totally unable to let herself have fun with it, which I might add, was the way she was about everything else in life. So I guess it wasn’t really very therapeutic for her.

Again, great topic. I look forward to everyone else’s replies!


There have been studies that found that exercise can have the same positive effects on depressed people as taking drugs like Zoloft.

I am all about the endorphins.

Great thread.