It is often said that people who work out regularly have a higher standard of living. The obvious results can be seen in the body, but the improvements do not stop there. People who are fit tend to be more emotionally stable and confident. They tend to flourish in other areas of their lives. They also tend to be happier and more fulfilled. There is a reason for this: Improvements in one aspect of your health have positive benefits throughout your life and overall health.
Exercising regularly (with proper technique), getting adequate rest, drinking enough water and eating properly translates into a healthier body. Cardiovascular health, strength and flexibility improve, allowing the body to work efficiently. This, in turn, boosts the immune system and reduces the risk of many everyday injuries.
The physical benefits from working out can spill over into our other selves, too. This column will focus on how physical fitness improves the other aspects of health, but remember that all systems are integrated and we could discuss how any of the others affect physical wellness.
Our emotions are controlled by a combination of personality, genetics, life experiences and hormones. There isn’t anything you can do to change most of these; however you can still affect an immediate improvement in your mood by working out. Physical exertion releases a cocktail of hormones that impart feelings of euphoria, excitement, pleasure and serenity, together they promote a sense of achievement and pride.
Working out during a bad mood or fit of anxiety or depression (when it is easy to simply sit around and be miserable), fosters a sense of discipline and reward that improves attitude and brings the world back into perspective. Physical fitness encourages an attitude of contentment and accomplishment.
The intellectual and psychological are bound together in this category. When physical fitness is approached properly, it proactively involves and conditions not only the skeletal, muscular and circulatory systems, but also the central and peripheral nervous systems. What does that mean? Exercise creates new synapses in the brain.
Yes, exercise makes you brighter, not dimmer. Dumb jocks are only one substrata of the fitness community — there are many athletic people who are also incredibly intelligent. (A good example of a gay fitness community with gorgeous people and brilliant minds is www.RealJock.com.)
Note: For the vast majority of people physical exercise is a beneficial endeavor that improves self-image, motivation, cognition, psychological development, teamwork skills, leadership skills, confidence, and identity development. For some, however, exercise can become an obsession. This is not the column to discuss the phenomenon in depth, but be aware of this potential pitfall.
Relationships with other people are a vital aspect of being a balanced individual. People, for the most part, need interaction with others and suffer a variety of stressors as a result of isolation. Disconnection is unhealthful.
The synergistic effect of experiencing the benefits of physical, emotional and psychological health is the appearance of being attractive. Without reducing the term to the physical or sexual level, it is common to see people who exercise enjoying a more fulfilling social network. Being active generally implies being out and about and in a position to meet people. Participating in activities and events puts a person in the mix.
Whether you make friends at the gym or while out walking or playing a favorite sport, you will be more apt to meet others who share your interests. In non-athletic situations, people who are physically powerful are attractive to others because they often radiate poise, stability, beauty and/or happiness. Cliché or not, appearances are valuable and those who are fit are magnetic to others for a variety of reasons.
Appearances are valuable. In the professional world it has been shown repeatedly that physically attractive people make more money than their plain counterparts. As ridiculous as you may think that sounds, the fact remains that people who are healthy and attractive have more opportunities afforded them, even if they aren’t necessarily more qualified. Why?
As mentioned before: People who are physically fit are less likely to take sick days, cutting down on their demands on insurance and adding to their productivity; they are more likely to project an image of contentment, constancy, sociability and success; and they are appealing to other people. In short, they put forward a pretty face for the business and that brings in more business. Businesses want to be attractive to clients. Healthy, physically fit professionals are very good at serving that purpose.
This aspect of your wellness is not about religion. It is concerned with your relationship with the world around you and your sense of purpose in life. Physical fitness, for many spiritual people, is an extension of the idea of the body as a temple. In the western monotheisms, although the body is often associated with sin and decay, it is also considered to be made in the image of a higher power. The image of this higher power itself is sacred, therefore our bodies are also holy (if not flawed for other reasons).
Taking care of the body and keeping it strong allows an individual to act for the betterment of the world, making the individual a contributor to creation (and therefore an extension of the deities in question). You don’t have to do crunches for the greater glory of Jesus, but being fit does mean that you take care of yourself and are thus better able to contribute something positive to a cause external to yourself, as well.
Alright, here’s a fun fact: According to new medical research, men who have two orgasms a day have a greatly reduced risk of developing prostate cancer. The jury is still out on cervical cancer, ladies. The Victorians could not have been more wrong: Masturbation and sex do not cause fatigue, mental illness, nervous disorders or wasting — they contribute to good overall health and thus help alleviate the risk of many of those symptoms. (Just remember to practice your sexuality safely: The consistent and proper use of condoms is still an important part of your fitness regimen.)
Aside from the physical benefits enjoyed throughout the body because of exercise, the reproductive system is generally at its best when the rest of the body is conditioned (all the body’s systems work together). A connection between wellness and reproductive vigor is evident in the way we perceive “beautiful.”
When forming attractions it is common to associate strength with beauty because strength implies health and health implies “fitness” (in the Darwinian sense). In other words, we have evolved to be attracted to healthy people and so you have a better chance of preventing prostate cancer (and possibly cervical cancer) by being in shape in the first place. Perhaps crunches for the greater glory of Jesus wouldn’t be so bad after all?
Jack Kirven holds an MFA in Dance from UCLA and a national certification in personal fitness training through NASM.
— Q-Notes’ “Health and Wellness” column rotates between physical fitness, spirituality, green living and medical wellness.