My first full time job out of college was a wellness director for an organization that helped served high risk youth. I helped spearhead an exercise therapy based program called Spark. I created this program based off a book called 'Spark' by John Ratey. Ratey is a member of the Harvard Medical Team and provides ample research supporting the physical and physiological effects of exercise on the brain. We combined Ratey's research based protocol and some of my background in exercise science to provide a thorough exercise program for the youth we served. Through this experience, I came to realize the psychological power that exercise has on the brain. Many times we only think about the physical benefits of exercise and nutrition. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wellness benefits.
There are many eye opening physiological and psychological benefits discussed in Ratey's book, however, I want to focus on one benefit in particular for the remainder of this blog. When I first read about cognitive restructuring I didn't fully grasp how extremely powerful this concept was. Simply put, exercise has the ability to rewire the brain.
The majority of youth I worked with had experienced high levels of trauma. As a result, certain parts of their brain were overstimulated which led to elevated heart rates, high anxiety/depression levels, and lower potential for processing ability (higher rates of aggression). During exercise our bodies experience stress. We create elevated heart rates, muscular fatigue, and multiple other stressors that are placed on our bodies. When exercise is programmed properly, our brains begin to cognitively rewire or restructure stress with positive (safe, beneficial, enjoyable) outcomes rather than negative (trauma based) events. Our brains develop new neurological pathways in which we can better deal with stress when it inevitably happens outside of the gym setting.
This was a huge benefit with the kids that I worked with because we provided them with the ability to become more resilient in their everyday lives. For people that have not experienced high levels of trauma, cognitive restructuring still plays a vital role. The process of rewiring your brain during exercise can help you better deal with stress, increase motivation, and increase attention span. All these areas can help you in your everyday life. Exercise is way deeper than what we can see in the mirror.
The positive effects of exercise has the ability to help you in almost every capacity. It has the ability to improve every other aspect of your lives and can give your kids tools to help them succeed in their endeavors. I witnessed the true power of exercise firsthand through some of the most severe and taxing situations (trauma/mental health). I think it was this experience that helped me grasp the intensity and the all encompassing hope that wellness brings. My life will never be the same after this realization. I hope that this encourages you and motivates you to push through and continue planting habits that will help implement wellness in your every day life. The physical benefits are great. Looking good, feeling good, and moving well makes life a lot better. However, there are so many other things that are happening "under the surface" that will bring ultimate life transformation. If you need advice or help individually, hit the button below. Your best is yet to come!