We all know that exercise is important and something we should incorporate regularly into our lives because of the multitude of benefits. From cardiovascular health to bone health, decreasing the risk of diabetes etc., there are a great number of health benefits. However, using health benefits as a motivator is unfortunately not a very compelling reason to go to the gym. It has been shown that short term benefits, such as feeling better during or immediately after a workout, are a stronger incentive to get people working out. Additionally, challenging yourself in a physical manner through regular exercise makes you a better person all around and carries through all aspects of your life, including your studies.
EMBRACE THE UNCOMFORTABLE
Here is the key point: exercise forces you to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I love that because it’s so powerful. This applies to any sport or athletic or athletic endeavor that requires regular training. As many top athletes have said, suffering in competitive athletics is inevitable, but being able to embrace uncomfortable situations is paramount to success, and not just in exercise, but in other aspects of your life. Public speaking used to be one of my biggest fears and I absolutely hated any time I had to go up and speak in front of an audience. But by learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, by getting outside of my comfort zone, I was able to address this weakness and even learned to actually enjoy public speaking.
Another example. I have learned that when I feel the burn during exercise, or pain, or discomfort, instead of running away from it and trying to escape it, I practice mindfulness. I look at it curiously, almost from a third person perspective, intrigued by what I’m feeling rather than letting the feeling control my thoughts. You can see this happen in action by doing planks. I challenge you to try doing a regular plank and time yourself. Now do it again, but this time don’t let the burn consume you, and instead watch it curiously, almost from a third person perspective. See how much longer you can go.
BENEFITS FOR STUDENTS
So how does this help you as a student? Research shows that regular aerobic exercise enhances cognitive functions, particularly executive functions. Another study published in 2006 in the Journal of Healthy Psychology showed that participants who went from not exercising at all to even a modest program (just 2 or 3 visits per week) demonstrated decreased stress, smoking, alcohol, and caffeine consumption. Their spending and study habits improved and were overall able to improve other regulatory habits. This means their ability to push through discomfort in exercise enhanced their ability to stay calm in the face of difficulties.
This is closely tied to discipline, which you guys know I am a huge proponent of. Discipline and self-regulatory behavior allows you to achieve something you set out to do at a prior moment in time, even when you don’t want to do it at a later time. Like I’ve said before, discipline is a muscle requiring regular exercise. If you practice discipline in going to the gym regularly and eating healthier, you’ll find it much easier to follow a disciplined study routine. That alone will make a significant difference in your grades.
Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit, calls exercise a “keystone habit”, meaning this change in one area of life can bring about positive changes in many other areas. These keystone habits are powerful because they “change our sense of self and our sense of what is possible”. While this is not my favorite book ever, it is a very powerful read. As many of you have probably heard, “you are the sum of your habits”. Most of what we do day in and day out are repeated behaviors that are habits. Changing your habits is therefore one of the most powerful ways to change or improve yourself.
Now, they key take away from these studies is that you don’t have to exercise at professional or olympic levels of intensity. As long as you are challenging yourself, you will reap a multitude of benefits. Like I said in the video explaining my journey to medical school, challenging yourself is a vital part in the process of growth and improvement. Challenging your muscles and body with increased exercise intensity and demand provides a stimulus for muscular growth and strengthening. Similarly, challenging yourself in other areas of your life and getting outside your comfort zone will help you grow in different ways.
If you’re finding it difficult to start a regular exercise routine, consider the following. Although it may seem counterintuitive, studies have shown that people whose goals are weight loss and better health spend the least amount of time exercising. In this study of 335 and women between 60 to 95, immediate rewards that enhance daily life such as revitalized energy, improved mood, and decreased stress, offered significantly more motivation.
Leave a comment below on what your chosen method of exercise is. I love cycling and weight training, but I also occasionally go running or hiking. If you don’t regularly exercise right now, how are you going to incorporate exercise into your life moving forward?