The empowering effects of exercise beyond enumeration

In addition to numerical units, more abstract measurements serve as useful indicators of exercise’s impact. (Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons)

Our society focuses intently upon numbers. For instance, we concern ourselves with the constantly dwindling monetary amounts in our bank accounts. We track the number of consecutive wins by the UConn women’s basketball team. Some of the most ardent politically-inclined individuals even count the days until they can elect more competent representatives into office. Although such numbers hold significance, they fail to provide complete situational accounts. In fact, this trend holds true somewhat surprisingly within the field of exercise.

We tend to emphasize numbers when assessing the effects of exercise. After all, we measure caloric decrease following a given workout and caloric increase accounting to consumption and hydration. Several exercise machines display the time that we spend on them; we generate numbers-based regimens (e.g. thirty push-ups, sixty jumping jacks, etc.). Our prioritization of obesity avoidance results in the measurement of our respective body mass indices (BMIs), cholesterol levels and body weights especially.

Ultimately, the most revealing statistic is the age to which exercise allows us to live; according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “people who are physically active for about 7 hours a week have a 40 percent lower risk of dying early than those who are active for less than 30 minutes a week.”

In addition to numerical units, more abstract measurements serve as useful indicators of exercise’s impact. Physical fitness allows us to abandon excess physical weight, but does it lift metaphorical weights off our shoulders also? Sure, regular exercise can lengthen our respective lifespans, but can it increase our life satisfaction as well? Several studies and reliable sources answer both of these questions with a resounding “yes!”

According to Time, “exercise triggers the release of chemicals in the brain—serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, dopamine—that dull pain, lighten mood and relieve stress.” So whenever a rather pesky illness invades your body, or you endure the onset of depression, or you’ve been procrastinating on preparation for that exam or essay that’s worth forty percent of your course grade, for example, physical activity provides an effective panacea. Because exercise induces brain stimulation, most evidently through both memory improvement and learning efficiency, your academic performance may rise significantly if you exercise regularly. Instead of stuffing your face with the aptly named cookies (tempting, I know), you can combat insomnia through physical fitness. Lastly, regular exercise can boost self-esteem, and the endurance of minor aches throughout a workout correlates strongly with resilience beyond the gym.

Numbers are easy to comprehend and they provide concrete standards for us to follow, particularly within the fitness realm; however, their rigidity and their tendency to make certain milestones appear unattainable suggests that we shouldn’t rely upon numbers alone as a determinant of proper health and weight loss. I’m no health expert (and certainly I won’t appear in infomercials anytime soon), but as one of the UConn Recreation Center’s daily visitors, I hope to impart some wisdom upon you regardless (I still have to build muscle, but you know, baby steps).

First, a gradual approach to both weight loss and general health presents its fair share of difficulties, especially with our society’s emphasis on numerical progression, but proves extremely effective long-term (i.e. be the Goldilocks of gym rats). In fact, routine exercise is not as daunting as you may believe, for the CDC claims that “you can put yourself at lower risk of dying early by doing at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.” Also, you should consider, but not overemphasize calorie counts and exercise times; if you maintain self-control and motivation, then you can render outrageous diets and exercise regimens unnecessary. Finally, remember that people of any shape and size are capable of embarking upon, and consequently upholding, a healthy lifestyle; as a psychology major, I can attest to the roles of both nature (i.e. biological influences) and nurture (i.e. environmental influences). Therefore, I implore you to contemplate regular exercise beyond the context of an inevitably futile New Year’s resolution, as it provides countless quantitative and qualitative benefits.

Michael Katz is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email