You may have been told by someone, maybe the internet or me or your mom that transformation is 80% nutrition and only 20% workouts. While I agree that good nutrition habits are extremely important (duh), I just can’t bring myself to say it outweighs workouts by that much.
I’m writing this because of an interesting conversation I had a couple weeks back in the Reform Xclusive group. The conversation went something like, “I know how important eating healthy is, but to me, workouts play a lot bigger role in my mental health than I ever thought they would.”
And guess what? I’m going to tell you why I feel that way because I know you’re dying to know how I feel about it aren’t you? Don’t answer that, just keep reading.
All things being equal, you will lose weight at a faster pace if you go all in on good nutritional habits and are in a caloric deficit compared to strength training alone. You can’t outwork a bad diet.
What I think is left out of the nutrition vs workout equation is ability workouts have to set the tone for the rest of your day. It can be the stress relief you need so you don’t take your bad day at work home with you. It can help you feel accomplished. And, let’s be honest, pushing weights around in the gym have an uncanny ability to make you feel like a badass.
I know I’ve never felt stress relief from eating chicken and rice. I mean, who has? Sure, some ice cream might provide some temporary relief, but, if I’m eating ice cream because I’m stressed I can assure you it will be in unhealthy quantities and will probably just add to the stress load I thought I was trying to reduce an hour or so after I’ve finished.
I wanted to find out exactly what happens in a workout to give off all these positive vibes aside from the pump that helps me fill out my T shirt, even though that feeling is short lived it still happens.
New research is coming out all the time about the positive effects that exercise can have on mental wellbeing. A few effects exercise has on the mood are (but not limited to):
Increased Serotonin Levels –
There is debate as to whether serotonin is a neurotransmitter or a hormone, but, for the sake of this article we’ll refer to it as happy juice. Increased happy juice levels have been linked with better moods, increased deep sleep, higher sex drive/desire and healthy bowel movements among other things.
Happy juice is a typical target of most anti depression medications; it’s a shame physical activity isn’t prescribed in droves instead of the docs slangin’ pills everywhere. Antidepressants have a time and place, I should know I’ve been on them for years until recently, but maybe, just maybe, we could find a way to prescribe something and promote adherence to something that doesn’t have side effects? Food for thought.
If you’re new here, you can read about my struggles with anxiety and depression HERE.
Improved Sleep –
Obviously, when you workout you are exerting energy that otherwise would have stayed pinned up had you opted for the couch. By burning that extra energy it makes it a lot easier for your brain to “shut down” and allow you to get the rest you need to recover from the workout.
Had you opted for the couch, which is completely fine to choose sometimes btw, you may go to bed stressed which can cause your mind to race. I don’t know about you, but, when my mind is racing the chances of me going to sleep are like zero.
Heightened Sense of Self Worth –
When you workout consistently, chances are you’re going to get better at it. To go along with all of the other benefits that working out provides it can also give you a sense of mastery. It can be like acquiring a skill, if you will. Most of us (probably) like to feel good about ourselves and getting better at something just feels good. You may be too embarrassed to say it out loud, which is fine, but the feeling of accomplishment is still there.
Ability to Handle Stress –
Not only is working out a great way to unload the stresses of everyday life, recent research shows that even though a prominent quality is still stress relief, working out can play a big role in how we handle new stressors in our lives.
Which, if you think about it, makes a ton of sense. Working out is a stressor to the core (pun intended).
Sure, it’s a little different than mental stress. But, its stress nonetheless. The more we do, the more we can handle. It’s a win-win situation. Leave the stresses you already have at the gym during your workout and improve your ability to handle to the stresses of tomorrow!
Again, I’m not advocating for putting your workout regimen above nutrition or saying you should pick one or the other. The best way to get the results you want is still with a whole food based diet and exercise. Period.
The point I’m trying to make, though, is that workouts can be way more than just vanity.
More than weight loss.
More than six packs.
Working out can be the medicine you’ve been needing.
The stress relief that lets you go home at night and be present with your family.
If it’s not in the cards for you to start with nutrition and workouts simultaneously, don’t let what “they” say deter you from choosing to focus on fitness first. Knowing what we know now, who’s to say that the chances of success aren’t higher when you start with fitness/workouts compared to starting with nutrition?
Whichever you choose to start with, though, know that you can always change your mind and start the other or do a combo of both. You’re not married to your initial decision, ever.