Benefits Beyond the Burn

By Emily Hulse, MS

Last week just happened to be one of those especially hectic, stressful weeks for me between work, family, and church responsibilities.  We all have weeks like that, right?  Where you just don’t get a second to catch your breath.  Well anyways, unfortunately it met I only made it to the gym once during the work week compared to my usual (almost) daily morning gym routine.  Then Saturday morning rolled around and we still had plenty to do, clean house, grocery shop, finish preparing for a Monday training at work, and so on.  We started cleaning that morning and my husband could tell I was still feeling a bit overwhelmed.  He told me “I’m taking the girls, we’ll go run errands and clean, and I want you to go to gym.”  I tried to argue with him that I had too much to do and I shouldn’t go, I should just stay home and help get some of these things done.  Consequently, last week was a great reminder to me of why I find exercise so important to my health, both physical and mental.

It made me think of my “why.”  Why do I exercise?  My “why” has changed over the years.  In junior high and high school, I remember participating in sports and exercising mainly because I thought it was fun and it meant even more time to hang out and spend with my friends.  My very early college years, before I began my course specific work, honestly one of the main reasons I exercised was because I wanted to look good.  In my later college years, after deciding to become a Nutrition and Exercise major, I began to study the vast benefits of exercise and the variety of ways it can positively impact one’s overall health.   I remember learning of an initiative launched by the American College of Sports Medicine called “Exercise is Medicine,” in which its purpose was to call on all health care providers to assess and review every patient’s physical activity program at every visit.  A quote linked with this initiative read “If you learned that a single prescription could prevent and treat dozens of disease, such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, would you prescribe it to your patients?  Certainly.”  As I quickly learned just how powerful of a tool exercise can be for the body my “why” started to shift to more of the long term benefits of exercise, such as increased protection from heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer to name a few.  As a mom of two little girls now, one of my “whys” behind exercise is to be a healthy role model and lead an active lifestyle for my family.

Just as I used to, I think many people see exercise or physical activity just as a way to burn calories.  Don’t get me wrong, this of course is important to maintain proper energy balance, which allows us to maintain our weight.  And it’s important for those individuals that need to lose weight to help improve their health condition because when we expend or use more calories than we consume, it leads to negative energy balance or weight loss.  However, I believe we don’t think about the other ways it helps us in leading a healthy life.  There are so many other daily benefits from exercise besides the burning of calories; some of these include more energy, decreased stress, better sleep, a metabolism boost, and psychological well-being.  Last week was a reminder to me of how much I rely on these benefits from exercise, especially decreased stress and more energy.  Not only am I happier when I feel less stressed and more energetic but my family consequently is happier.  Thus, why my husband sent me to the gym last Saturday!  Exercising and being physically active is an amazing tool we can use in keeping our bodies and minds healthy.  Hopefully, we realize it’s something much more powerful than just burning calories so that we can fit into a certain pair of jeans or eat more food that day. What is your “why?”  Why do you exercise? 

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