By Brooke Harrington, Opinion Writer
Headphones in, workout clothes on, water bottle in hand, sneakers tied tight. This is the outfit makes me feel powerful. Not my business suit or my name-tag, but my simple workout clothes. Everyone always asks me how I bring myself to go to the gym every day, how I learned to choose salad over pizza, and why I am always being so productive and happy. The honest truth is that I’m living such an efficient and happy life due to my habit of going to the gym for an hour once a day. Now I know it seems like I may just be saying that. You know, I am a gym rat, “the grind never stops”. However, going to the gym is much more to a person than just toning up their abs or keeping them self in shape.
The list of the benefits of a healthy life style can go on and on, but for a college student there are some very key benefits that I would like to hone in on. Many people hit the gym to improve their everyday health, build muscle, and of course, get a rockin’ beach bod, but working out has benefits for not just your body, but your brain too. Regardless of age or fitness level, if you are a mall-walker or a marathoner, studies show that making time for exercise provides extreme mental, and of course physical benefits.
One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Getting sweaty for an hour can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, which is a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. Exercise also releases endorphins. These chemicals create the feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression, and can even be as effective as antidepressant pills. If you are extremely stressed out, the gym can also help with the anxiety that comes along with stress. The chemicals released during exercise can help one to calm down, which also leads one to be less anxious. Going to the gym for 30 minutes a day can help boost overall mood and relieve someone of the frustrations of the homework from their least favorite class.
On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-confidence. This is a very important and awesome benefit of putting yourself through your own little boot camp. Regardless of weight, size, gender, or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person’s perception of his or her attractiveness, which therefore leads them to have a greater sense of self-worth. Exercise does not only benefit self-worth physically. Studies show that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein, known as BDNF in the body. This protein is believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning. Regular physical activity helps to boost memory and the ability to learn new things, as working out increases the production of cells in hippocampus, which are responsible for memory and learning. So if you do decide to hit the gym, you can have the beauty and have the brains.
The last thing I want to mention is how the gym can truly make one more productive than they ever were before. For starters, working out before bedtime raises the body’s core temperature, and when the body temperature drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep. This could therefore lead to better sleeping patterns and better sleep in general, which allows for the body to recuperate and one to take on the day with much more energy than they had before. Speaking of energy, research shows that workers who take time for exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their peers who choose not to work out. While busy schedules can make it tough to squeeze in a gym session, if you are looking to have a better work ethic, study habits, or better overall productivity, hitting the gym might just be the way to get it all done.
If you didn’t get the hint already, all I’m trying to say is that working out and being the “gym rat” can have far more positive effects beyond prepping your bod for beach season. Gaining self-confidence, getting out of a funk, and even thinking smarter are some of the motivations to take time for exercise on a regular basis. So at the end of the day, toss off your suit and throw on some Nikes. You have no idea how much those forty floors on the stair master might help you.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 24th print edition.
Contact Brooke at