According to the dictionary, an epiphany is defined as: “an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) or an illuminating discovery, realization or disclosure.”
I think we all go through an “epiphany” or life changing discovery that leads to behavior modification. By now you may be asking yourself, “so what was your epiphany and what behaviors were modified?” Here is the answer.
In 2004, I returned from a combat tour only to resettle in the Washington, D.C. area. My transition seemed to be going well until I began noticing anxiety attacks, restless nervousness, and an inability to sleep with a substantial loss of appetite. I knew these symptoms were not normal, yet ignored them for approximately three to four months. I finally concluded that something had to be done “just so that I could get a full night’s rest.”
It was about 10 PM. I put on some workout gear and went to the gym. The gym was empty, so I did not worry about embarrassing myself (because I had not been to the gym in years.) I fired up the “elliptical” machine; set it to level one and 45 minutes. I started working out and went as long as I could. Trust me; I did not last the full 45 minutes. When I thought I was done, I pushed further. My only goal was to become so exhausted that I could sleep through the night. That evening was the first night in months that I slept uninterrupted through the night.
By now, you may be asking yourself: “What does this have to do with fitness and exercise?” Simply stated – the value of physical activity in our daily lives produces benefits that go far beyond what you might expect. My experience has taught or reinforced the following ten benefits of working out:
#1 Helps you sleep better: Studies continuously show that moderate to vigorous 20 to 30 minute workouts three to four times a week help you sleep better. A morning or afternoon workout is better than one that is close to bedtime. (My preferred workout time is in the afternoon.)
#2 Slows the aging process and reduces risk of premature death: Most people loose approximately 10 per cent of their aerobic capacity after turning 30. However, routine exercise helps improve your aerobic abilities the older you get. I have found that working out has improved skin and muscle tone, increase my flexibility and has helped reduce the risk of heart disease.
#3 Builds and maintains healthy muscles, bones and joints: Through the aging process, our bones may lose density or mass, the joints may become a little stiffer and less flexible and our body mass with decrease. While the natural aging process cannot be stopped, regular exercise can help slow the process while helping to maintain strength and flexibility.
#4 Strengthens and boosts the immune system: Regular exercise strengthens and improves the body’s immune functions. Through the aging process, the immune system can progressively decline leading to a higher risk of infectious diseases. This is particularly true if you are a male. But there is good news. Through regular, moderate cardio workouts, such as jogging, walking or cycling the decline in immune functions can be slowed or offset.
#5 Improves mental acuity: Bottom line – regular exercise leads to better memory functions.
#6 Improves Confidence: This quality cannot be overstated, especially if you combine aerobic exercise with weight lifting. As a lifter, I found that as I lifted more weight in the gym, got stronger, and put on muscle mass – I began walking a little taller, gained a new found “pep in my step,” noticed improvements in my self esteem and began receiving positive comments from Family, Friends, and Co-workers. These are all benefits that I did not and could not have anticipated.
#7 Increased energy and endurance: Truth be told, the hardest part sometimes is just going to the gym. Once you are there, it is all academic. It does not matter how tired you are at the end of the day. The time you invest in “sweat equity” will definitely recharge your battery, giving you energy to complete the day. People that work out regularly have more energy, strength, endurance, and find it easier to get through the day.
#8 Improves sexual performance and restores libido: This is a fact. Regular exercise can increase sexual drive, activity and satisfaction. Exercise increases testosterone levels which stimulate sexual desire. However, we must be conscious of the fact that too much exercise can reduce testosterone and various other male hormone levels which will have the opposite effect.
#9 Reduces stress, depression and anxiety: This benefit cannot be understated. Routine exercise reduces stress and anxiety. By reducing muscle tension we become less hyperactive and or jittery. In addition, the body releases more endorphins for about an hour and a half to two hours after a workout which leads to improved mood and attitude while contributing to a relaxed state.
#10 Reduces the risk of many diseases: This is the number motivation for working out regularly. Routine exercise contributes to a reduced risk of many serious and potentially harmful and deadly diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, colon and breast cancers just to name a few.
There is one final point benefit that should be addressed. Throughout my journey, I found that no matter how much I invest in physical activity, it must be followed by a change in your diet. I will discuss this more in a future article.
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