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How exercise makes you feel is more important

Updated on June 20, 2007

If I asked you why you exercise, I bet many of you would say to look better- we are all looking to lose some weight, or tone something hear, or make ourselves stronger there... And than if I asked you if exercise make you feel better, I would bet that almost all of you would say "yes". But for many of us "feeling better" is an extra benefit, rather than a cause to exercise.... prehaps we should change our thinking according to some new research:

Shifting the focus from how exercise may make you look to how it makes you feel may help people start, maintain or even appreciate an exercise program, said Michael R. Bracko, Ed.D., FACSM, in a presentation he recently gave at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) 11th-annual Health & Fitness Summit & Exposition in Dallas, Texas. Bracko says the psychological benefits of exercise are as important, if not more so, than the physical benefits.

"The physical needs and outcomes of exercise, whether it's to lose weight, tone muscle, or address obesity dominates what we hear about, but lots of people who exercise don't see stark physical benefits," said Bracko. "The message needs to be rewritten. When you exercise you're going to feel better. You'll feel less stress and more relaxed, you'll sleep better, and you'll likely be more confident."

A study published last year by ACSM linked vigorous physical activity in kids to better grades in school. Bracko noted this research shows the most active kids achieve a psychological benefit through improved academic performance. Other research found kids who are active are less likely to engage in negative social behaviors, like premarital sex, smoking, or substance abuse.

Bracko points to studies that have shown physical activity and exercise reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve mood. Stress can also be mediated with exercise. Heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels, all of which are raised under stress, can be decreased with exercise.

Research has also shown positive psychological effects of exercise are experienced across the lifespan, by children, adults and older adults.

For older adults especially, Bracko says the psychological benefit of exercise is self-efficacy. "Exercise is a self-fulfilling prophecy for all ages, but particularly for older adults," he said. "Improving the feeling that they can exercise by doing so creates confidence in being active. One of the biggest reasons people don't exercise is because they believe they physically cannot exercise." Some studies, says Bracko, suggest older adults who maintain fitness are less likely to experience dementia or suffer from symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease.

Bracko recommends certified health and fitness professionals work with their clients to focus on the psychological benefits of exercise. "If someone is having motivational issues with exercise because they are trying to spot reduce their midsection, ask them if they feel better, sleep better or have more energy during the day. They probably have neglected to look at those positive outcomes because they're focused on their belly."

The Summit is presented this year with the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) as an educational partner.

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 International, National and Regional members are dedicated to promoting and integrating scientific research, education and practical applications of sports medicine and exercise science to maintain and enhance physical performance, fitness, health and quality of life.

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