Everyone already knows that exercise is important for your body’s fitness. But did you know that it’s critical for your mental and spiritual health as well? One might even say that it is the foundation of wellness for the entire being—body, mind, and spirit.
The Science Supporting Exercise
Numerous scientific studies have confirmed the importance of exercise for health; our bodies are made for movement, and they suffer if we become too sedentary. In a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found positive correlation between regular exercise and better health according to several indicators, including bone density, blood pressure, cardiovascular fitness, blood sugar, body mass index, and cancer risk. [i]
Studies also show the benefits for mental health, reducing the incident of mood disorders and improving cognitive function like memory and processing speed. Neuroscientists have observed that exercise stimulates the growth of neuronal pathways in the brain, so going out to take a walk is probably as important for your brain as sitting down to read a book. The act of walking and other forms of movement, including the development of one’s manual dexterity, is a very complex process for the brain and much of the brain is devoted to accommodating those connections.
Gentle, full-body exercise stimulates multiple areas of the brain as you repeatedly tense and relax the muscles. In response, the brain increases ganglia functioning by releasing hormones that, in turn, maximizes brain capabilities. By developing those pathways, we also allow a greater range of cognitive and creative processing since these pathways can be used to process all sorts of signals, not just those involved in physical movement.
Also, exercise makes you happier and more focused. One study found that those who exercise experience a 2-3 hour increase in the ability to focus after exercise. Also, exercise reduces the presence of the stress hormone cortisol, which in excess can cause anxiousness and lack of focus, not to mention all the deleterious health consequences of too much stress. In addition, exercise increased the presence of “happy hormones,” like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, enough to allow some people to stop medications for depression.
What’s Good for the Body Is Good for the Soul
Sometimes, spiritual people prioritize their spiritual development over their physical health, thinking the spiritual world is more important than the physical world. While it is true that growing beyond simple physical drives and desires is part of the spiritual growth process, it is a mistake to dismiss the importance of physical health. Our physical bodies are our vehicle for this spiritual growth process, and we need to take care of them. You wouldn’t take a long road trip without checking the oil and tire pressure in your car, so please take the same care for your soul’s journey. Physical health is the foundation of the body-mind-spirit triad that constitutes this human experience, so remember to nurture the body with healthy food and exercise to take care of your soul. Without that, you will find yourself prone to being thrown off-balance mentally and spiritually as you make your way through life.
Developing an Exercise Habit
The good news is that this does not require great dedication; it just requires good habits. Researchers have found that excessive exercise is detrimental since the body can not recover. Regular, moderate exercise is all that’s needed, and what you need to maintain and improve can be adjusted to your current physical condition. When people say, “I don’t have time to exercise,” they are really only saying that they have not prioritized it enough to make it a habit. You wouldn’t skip brushing your teeth or taking regular showers, so don’t skip your exercise either. Like any habit, it will become a fixture of the brain if you can dedicate yourself for just 21 days, so start with something small, like a five-minute walk in the evening, and do it consistently, every day or a set number of times per week.
The physical body is a great gift, but like any gift you receive in life, it must be cared for or you won’t get the best from it and it will wear out too soon. Loving your soul means loving your body, regardless of its age or current condition. Show your love by adding exercise to your everyday routine today.