Sometimes, I don't get things the first time. Someone can tell me about a new musician or author who is extremely talented and exactly fits my tastes, but it won't click; they won't catch on. It's not until I am reminded a second or third time, by another source altogether, that I feel the need to pursue this artist or subject and finally realize the impact it can have on me.
For example, a few weeks ago I was working with a relatively new client. I always enjoy chatting during sessions, and getting to know new clients never seems to disappoint. Halfway through the workout, as they were performing a relatively high-intensity exercise, I asked this extremely fit, relatively motivated client why they hired me at $40 an hour to train them. They finished their set, sat down with their head between their legs, and between panting breaths responded, "This is my Prozac." This statement was immediately buried deep in my memory, never to surface again, until...
Several weeks later, I attended the annual Manitoba Fitness Council conference and listened to the keynote speaker talk about mental-health awareness. From there, I went to my next scheduled lecture with Len Kravitz (I'm not kidding, that's his real name) and watched him present -- you called it -- the mental-health benefits of exercise! Guess what aforementioned client's sentiment just hit me over the head like a Southern Comfort hangover? Even though the information presented to me was not new, the fact I was bombarded from several different directions by the same approach to exercise made me consider the effects of exercise in a different light.
So often we focus on the direct and obvious effects of exercise -- if I work out, I'll lose weight, my heart, lungs and muscles will get stronger and I'll avoid heart and lung diseases and diabetes-- that we forget about all the other incredible things we can attribute to exercise, regardless of age and level of health.
All of these prospective benefits should certainly motivate us to get active, right? Here are a few points of which you and I equally need to be reminded:
If you're young, exercise plays a key role in cortical development. Similar to learning and playing a musical instrument, regular exercise and involvement in new motor patterns or skills will create more synapses in your brain. In short, sports and exercise will allow you to process more information, quicker.
If you're a 20- or thirtysomething and settling into the doldrums of adulthood (forgive my negativity), exercise is neuroprotective and will help protect your brain from all the other abuse you throw at it. It will also improve sleep patterns, help with concentration, memory and multi-tasking, and reduce stress in so many ways it's almost ludicrous everyone isn't exercising all the time.
If you're actually reading this in print and just finished opening your pension cheque, exercise has the same effect as in younger adults but can potentially slow the onset of many degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's. Studies have shown exercise can help maintain cognitive function as well as or better than logic games and puzzles, which may be why I can often beat my mom in Scrabble even though she plays all the time!
If you suffer from mental illness, many doctors and psychiatrists posit exercise is more effective than medication for the treatment of conditions such as depression, anxiety and even PTSD. And guess what the side-effects of properly managed exercise are? EVERYTHING ELSE we just finished talking about!
I feel like I've used a lot of exclamation points in this article -- and rightfully so. Exercise only benefits us; in body AND mind. Unfortunately, its effects are not always immediate, and it takes some effort.
For 59 per cent of Canadians, weight loss is the grim reality and should be the primary motivator for exercise, but 100 per cent of Canadians can benefit from the mental-health benefits of exercise. Get smarter AND happier while exercising? Who could say no to that?
Tim Shantz is a certified athletic therapist and personal trainer.