Move the Body, Still the Mind

The Link Between Physical and Mental Health

In the movie Legally Blonde, Elle Woods famously used the argument that a woman accused of murdering her husband couldn’t possibly have done the deed because she was a fitness instructor. “Exercise gives you endorphins,” Woods said. “Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands, they just don’t.”

Okay, okay, her line of reasoning wouldn’t hold weight in a real courtroom, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth behind it. Numerous studies have shown that endorphins, aka the “feel good hormones” that are released during a workout, can relieve stress, lower anxiety, decrease depression, and improve your overall mood. And while athletes, fitness fanatics, and mental and physical health care professionals have known this fact for years, the 2020 pandemic brought it into sharp focus. Social isolation, disruption of routine, loss of income, loss of loved ones, and the general fear that took over the country were detrimental to the collective mental health of the population. People needed a distraction from the never-ending bad news, but with gyms and studios closed, there weren’t many options for sweating it out. Virtual fitness platforms, on-demand workouts, and at-home gym equipment soared in popularity as people searched for ways to get healthy and stay healthy. And while it’s true that many people were turning to home workouts as a way to try and keep up existing fitness routines, others turned to exercise for the first time for the sole purpose of getting out of their heads.

Why It Works

Thanks to Ms. Woods, we already know about the effect of exercise endorphins, but physical activity has the added benefit of releasing serotonin, the chemical found in anti-anxiety and depressant medications like Zoloft. In that way, exercise is like a natural mood stabilizer, giving you a good dose of “happy chemicals” without any side effects, while helping to reduce cortisol and adrenaline, the “stress hormones,” that cause your body to go into a “flight or fight” response. You may recognize this condition as the nervous energy that makes your heart pound, your palms sweat, and, in extreme conditions, may cause an anxiety or panic attack. By mimicking a similar response through exercise, the body’s nervous system becomes accustomed to the sensations and is less likely to default to full-anxiety mode in a fearful or stressful situation.

But there’s more to this mind/body connection than simply chemistry. First, there is a feeling of satisfaction that comes from a solid sweat session. That sense of accomplishment and strength that you feel when you push through a challenge in the gym can carry over into your daily life and give you the confidence you need to ask for a raise, initiate a difficult conversation, or tackle a challenging project at work. Then there is the sense of camaraderie that you get from being part of a community. People are hard-wired for connection and a sense of belonging. Whether it’s a running group, a barre class, or the weight room at the gym, it’s nice to see familiar, friendly faces sweating alongside you and encouraging you to be your best. Finally, there is the mental clarity that comes from unplugging and taking an hour out of your day to focus on yourself and your health. We live in a world where we are accessible 24/7 and overstimulated by technology at every turn. It’s enough to short-circuit anyone’s brain! Exercise offers a much-needed respite from the daily grind and can help you re energize your body and refocus your mind so you can show up for all of your responsibilities with renewed energy.

How it Works

Just because they call it a “runner’s high” doesn’t mean you have to be a runner to experience the endorphin release and mental health benefits that come from a good workout. You can reap the rewards from your favorite studio or online class, too, and you don’t need an hour to do it! Remember, something is always better than nothing when it comes to your health. Physique 57 offers quick, effective online classes that you can do at home in as little as 5-15 minutes. The key is Physique 57’s science-backed, proven method that combines high-intensity cardio and strength training with stretching. This powerful blend of movements delivers a lot of bang for your buck, regardless of how much time you have.

No gym membership? No problem! Never underestimate the power of a short, simple walk outside to clear the mind and stimulate the senses. Studies show that just 20-30 minutes spent outside getting fresh air and sunshine can give your brain a much-needed boost and improve your overall mental health. The bottom line? Don’t let not knowing where to start, or lack of time, create unnecessary stress and anxiety. Put one foot in front of the other and get moving. Both your body and mind will thank you.