When questioned on why people visit the gym, many tend to focus on the physical advantages, such as losing weight, getting stronger, or simply being able to climb to the top of the Boyd Orr without getting out of breath four floors in. However, the mental benefits of going to the gym are often forgotten in favour of these physical ones.
As Elle Woods famously said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands.” The fact that going to the gym can help improve your mood is not something which should be forgotten, nor should it be understated. It can help you sleep better, which in turn can further improve your mental health. In my experience, it also helps you feel extremely productive and that you have your life that little bit more together.
Similarly, when you have a lot on your mind, or something has happened which you are finding difficult to process, going to the gym can be extremely helpful. Both the concentration needed and the pain felt whilst exercising force you to focus on the task at hand, rather than what has been occupying your brain, and often allows you to subconsciously process it. Indeed, if you are trying to forget someone, or can’t stop thinking about them, it gives your brain some respite. There have been many times where I have turned to the gym after a bad argument with a friend or when I feel like I’m losing control of my life, and simply the act of focusing on physical activity has helped clear my mind.
Going to the gym is also helpful if you are feeling unsettled or antsy, like you need to run somewhere but don’t know where, or why. It is a place where you can channel all your extra energy, and let out any pent-up anger you may have in a healthy way. It certainly beats arguing with your flatmates over something mundane.
However, it is important to note that sometimes going to the gym can worsen your mental health, leading to an obsession with your physical appearance and weight. Focusing on the mental benefits of it, rather than the physical ones, may be a way to help alleviate these dangers. Try to remain aware of why you are going to the gym: if you use the pain from exercising as a form of punishment, or go as an excuse to weigh yourself, take a step back and re-evaluate your reasons for being there, and remember to stay safe.
[Eleanor Fletcher – @eleanorlf_]