Ask anyone about the benefits of fitness and you will find that improvements in muscle mass, physique, and endurance come most easily to mind. However, I argue that society should look beyond these physical changes and rather view exercise as a means to build a better community. While reductions in waist lines, body fat, and risk of disease are key to an enhanced quality of life, the psychological effects of physical activity are often overlooked. Yet, improving mental health should take the forefront of all well-being concerns due to its significant correlations to more serious issues that affect the world such as absenteeism and gun violence. In order to empower the population to recognize the direct connection that fitness and mental health share, we must first break the stigma that surrounds exercise and instead emphasize the cognitive impacts that can lead to a higher lifelong standard of living.
If the positive effects of fitness and/or body building are undoubtedly favorable, then why aren’t people lining up to sign up for a gym membership? Last year, a Gallup study recorded statistically significant increases in the prevalence of obesity and diabetes in 34 different states over the past decade. How could this be? The answer: the stigma around exercise. Many, if not most, internalize a considerable amount of anxiety, fear of judgement, and discomfort when conceptualizing a visit to the gym. This feeling, commonly known as “gymtimidation”, discourages people of all ages and sizes from setting foot in fitness centers. This is why we need to work to deconstruct this sociocultural framework and then rebuild it to reflect a new neuropsychological perspective that welcomes all.
One of the most convincing ways to successfully redefine what it means to workout in the minds of Americans is to educate. While the science behind brain plasticity, neurotransmitter pathways, and cognitive process physiology can get very technical and difficult to understand, the main message can be logically conveyed in simple terms. I myself learned a lot just by watching professor and neuroscientist, Dr. Wendy Suzuki’s TED Talk on the chemical and physical responses within the brain after aerobic activity. Not only does regular fitness bring about more neurotransmitters that boost mood, attention, and focus but it also elicits lasting life altering effects. Just like any other muscle constantly being exerted, the brain (specifically the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus) also grow in size post-workout. But what is most notable is that this growth equates to enhance protection and delay the onset of incurable neurodegenerative diseases. This outcome in itself would be an invaluable endowment to any human being. The ability to extend a high quality a life for a couple more years, or delay any sort of disease in general, would truly be a great human achievement within any population.
Therefore, I challenge you, our community, and our world to engage in fitness for not only the body but for the mind too. As a whole, we should adopt the perspective that creating a more perfect union stems from strengthening the intellectual stability of each and every individual. For a healthy mind is a healthy body, or as John Locke once said, “A sound mind in a sound body, is a short, but full description of a happy state in this World: he that has these two, has little more to wish for; and he that wants either of them, will be little the better for anything else”.
I was born and raised in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Currently, I am a sophomore attending the University of Colorado at Boulder. Dedication to my academics is a priority to me as I am studying two majors–psychology and marketing. My plan is to graduate in May of 2021, with two degrees (Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts). While my post-graduation plans are undecided, I aspire to combine my passions of sport, mental health, and business into a single profession.
- Gallup, Inc. (2013, July 24). Depression Costs U.S. Workplaces $23 Billion in Absenteeism. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/163619/depression-costs-workplaces-billion-absenteeism.aspx
- Gallup, Inc. (2012, December 19). To Stop Shootings, Americans Focus on Police, Mental Health. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/159422/stop-shootings-americans-focus-police-mental-health.aspx
- Gallup, Inc. (2018, November 13). Diabetes Rates Rise in 18 States in Past Decade. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/243911/diabetes-rates-rise-states-past-decade.aspx
- TED. (2018, March 21). The brain-changing benefits of exercise | Wendy Suzuki. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHY0FxzoKZE