7 Surprising Things that Happen when you Exercise

Last week, I heard from "Gina," an old client I'd lost touch with years ago. Gina wanted to meet for coffee, and so we met at a vegan café on the Upper West Side.

"I wanted to thank you in person," she said as we sat down.

"For what?" I asked. I'd only coached her for one session before she moved, so I didn't know if I'd had a real effect on her.

"It was you who first encouraged me to start exercising," she said, "and that has changed my life – my work, my mind, my emotions. Everything."

Then she told me her story.

When we'd first met, Gina was struggling. She loved her work as a research professor, but she felt she was missing out on pretty much everything else: friends, family, romance, her mental and physical health. Lately, she'd been feeling tired and foggy, and was having a hard time focusing.

I know what it's like to not be able to focus! When she told me that, back in our first coaching session, my first question was this: "Are you exercising?"

"Ha!" she had said. "Does clicking a mouse count? Then yes, all day every day."

It turned out that, like millions of Americans, Gina was barely moving her body. Even when she wasn't working, she was too tired to do much. She wasn't overweight, so the problem wasn't obvious – except in how she was feeling.

"Would you be willing to exercise?" I asked her. I outlined some of the amazing benefits of exercise (more on that in a minute), hoping it would compel her to give it a try. (What I find is that people who hate exercise need a lot of convincing, but once they get over the initial hump, they're hooked.)

"I don't know," she said, unconvinced. I think she'd been hoping for something else. "I guess."

She agreed to do three short run a week (emphasis on the "short), plus go to a Pilates class on Thursdays. I told her to call me in a month. When we hung up, I hoped she would take me up on my challenge.

Two months later, I got an email from her. I'm so sorry I fell out of touch – I got a job offer in another state, so I'm moving. I hope to catch up more with you soon. - G

That was the last I heard from her – until last week.

"It took a while for me to actually stick to our agreement," she confessed over a matcha latte. "I was so busy with moving, settling in, and I felt guilty. I knew I should be working out, but I just didn't until…"

"Until what?" I said.

"I hit rock bottom," she said. "I was depressed, I'd just gotten dumped by a guy I really liked—my first relationship in years. And I was stuck on my current work project – I just couldn't get past this one obstacle. I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and I knew I had to make a change.

"So the next day, I went to a gym downtown, and before I could change my mind, I signed up for a monthly pass. I saw results right away. The fog in my brain cleared. I could concentrate again. I had energy. I felt powerful. Even my work improved, I got our of my rut, because I was thinking more creatively, taking more chances. I felt like I could do anything. I went out and made friends and even met someone.

"And I know it's because of exercise, because that's the only variable that changed. And on weeks I don't exercise, I feel like crap. It's literally been life-changing."

It is difficult to exaggerate the benefits of exercise. Here are just a few:

  • It improves focus, memory, and learning
  • Improves mood and sleep
  • Changes gene expression – that is, it can actually override your genetic tendencies, including the one toward obesity
  • Triggers neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons in the brain), which is linked to high rates of happiness, success, and motivation
  • Eases symptoms of mental health issues like ADHD, anxiety, and depression
  • Provides relief from chronic pain
  • Can protect the brain from aging effects, even Alzheimer's disease

“There is no pill that comes close to what exercise can do,” says Claude Bouchard, director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center's human genomics laboratory. “And if there was one, it would be extremely expensive.”

Exercise is so powerful that experts are even recommending that it be "considered as a first line treatment" against depression.

That's why I recommended it to Gina, and why I'm recommending it to you now. Its effects are staggering – and so good, you've got to see it for yourself.

So what will you do today to get your blood pumping?

What will you do this week?

Go out, work out, and shine.

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