The Psychological Benefits of Fitness: Get Moving and Start Smiling

Stew Smith sun run
(Stew Smith)

Starting a fitness program will change your life. You'll move easier with less pain, weigh less and have more energy. There are also countless psychological benefits that you should consider if you are trying to be more consistent with your physical activity. Check out the Psychological Phases of Fitness.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has limited social activity these past two years, we need to address mental health now more than ever. Physical activities, ranging from the basics of stretching and walking to more advanced weightlifting and running, can enhance the way you feel, look and drastically change your outlook on your situation.

If you are trying to motivate yourself to get moving, here are some of the most important reasons to move on a consistent basis.

Improved body image and improved self-esteem. The most common reason why most start exercising is purely aesthetic. However, self-esteem is also improved as you start to see inches lost and performance gained.

Higher energy levels and better mood. When you exercise, you want to improve the foods you eat, choosing a diet that will improve overall energy levels and therefore improve your mood. Physical activity increases hormones that directly affect our mood. Though this is a physiological benefit, the hormonal responses to physical activity are psychologically beneficial as well.

Improved confidence in your abilities. Feeling better, looking better and improved posture are the near-immediate benefits of physical activity. Physiological activity can improve your self-confidence directly as you walk into a room, enter a fitness center or become a more vocal employee unafraid to share opinions.

Improved outlook on life, sense of accomplishment. "Psychologists also recommend exercise to their patients because it leads to a sense of accomplishment," according to the American Psychological Association's website. From this simple act of adding fitness into your day, the cascading effects can enhance your outlook in other areas of your life and lead to great productivity at work, a better attitude when challenges arise and more resilience when facing the other stresses of life.

Decreased symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. "Getting dressed and driving to the gym first thing in the morning may not be so fun in the moment but prioritizing self-care practices like exercise can result in a cascade effect of other healthy habits, like eating nutritiously, socializing with others, and getting a good night's sleep -- all of which can improve depression symptoms," according to the American Psychological Association.

Reduction of stress. Even though physical activity is a form of physical stress, the activity itself is a form of resiliency training that allows the mind and body to work together to be more capable at handling situational stress when it arises. The benefits of stress reduction come after the activity is completed, as a rush of "feel-good" hormones and endorphins can help you metabolize (bring back to normal balance) the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline. Study on Stress

Improve sleep. Making exercise a habit that you pursue as the sun rises can help set your circadian rhythm, allowing you to fall asleep easier at night. You can just simply sit outside in the morning sun for 15-20 minutes, but the added physical activity helps set the tone for the day. You will notice a better mood, wider attention and greater productivity when you exercise first thing in the morning.

Seeing a sunrise as you walk, jog or do calisthenics outside offers a peace that you can only find as the day starts. Give it a month, and you will notice the difference. It could be this lifestyle change that helps you see progress in so many areas of your life, according to Doctor Parsley MD.

The good news is that the above benefits can be yours with something as simple as a 20-minute walk sometime during the day. Many find walking beneficial first thing in the morning before work or after a stressful day of work and commuting.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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