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How Exercise Improves Your Mental Resilience

Updated: Jan 25, 2022

Mental resilience refers to your ability to adapt and cope in the face of adversity, traumatic events, tragedy, or other stressors.

Regular exercise can help build your mental resilience. In particular, setting physical goals and crushing them can prepare you when challenging times hit.

How? It shows you what you’re made of. It shows you that while you may be uncomfortable right now, this feeling is not going to last. It’s temporary. You will get through it. In fact, you’ve gotten through other adversities or discomforts before.

Take that for a little fitness inspiration. Let’s dive a little deeper.

The Marathon: It’s a Mental Game

While I am by no means recommending everyone runs a marathon (hey, running isn’t for everyone - I totally get it!), this example demonstrating the link between exercise and mental resilience is easy to understand (particularly for runners, but stay with me here!).

You’re running that marathon. Maybe it’s your first time. Maybe it’s your 10th time. It takes most trained runners about 4-5 hours to complete a full marathon. That’s a long time to keep your legs moving. In reality, that’s a long time to be doing anything non-stop. Not to mention, it is an incredibly long distance. A marathon is 42.195 kilometres or 26.219 miles.

Finishing is a huge accomplishment - there’s no arguing that. But think about how badly you want to stop - how good it would feel to just stop running. You may also experience doubt. The end is so far. You’ll never make it.

This is where your mind - or mental resilience - comes in. Yeah, it would be great to stop in the moment, for maybe a brief period. Your legs, your body - you’re just so tired. But then it’s jeopardising your goals.

You dreamed of the day you would finally cross that finish line. Or maybe you’re going for your best time. Or perhaps you just want to prove to yourself you still can.

At some point, your pre-race adrenaline wears off. You’re breathing heavy. It becomes a mental battle, a game per se. You fight with yourself. You find strategies to motivate yourself. You may cling to your end goal. You may throw on some tunes that set the perfect pace. You amp yourself up with positive self-talk strategies.

You imagine yourself finally crossing that finish line (or perhaps eating that post-race burger and fries). You will your legs to keep moving forward. And you are so uncomfortable by this point.

But you did it. Soon, it’s over. The battle has ended. The finish line is behind you. You’re looking back thinking, ‘boy, I’m glad I didn’t stop.’ You’re thinking about how badly you wanted to stop. You might even go over the narrative in your head again - how you were so tired and uncomfortable, but you felt your goal was so close.

Physically, you were done about 20 kilometres or 12 miles back. Mentally, you stuck with it till the end.

How do you feel? Unstoppable, like life could throw anything your way and you could deal with it.

Why? Because you’ve done it before. If you can run a whole marathon, heck yes you can deal with that hard-to-talk-to co-worker or even just get through this week.

And it doesn’t have to be a marathon. Like I said, not everyone is a runner. It could be something as simple as getting through that next workout. You got through that workout, so you can get through the million and one meetings you have today. It’s not going to be fun. But everything is temporary. And it’s likely going to be an uncomfortable day, but you’ll get through it.

The Mental-Physical Link

When you feel better physically, your mental health also improves (and most of the time, vice-versa). We are slowly realising the two are interlinked.

For example, doctors and healthcare professionals are starting to work with psychologists and other mental health professionals to address individual illnesses and pain. A holistic approach is becoming more and more emphasised.

Exercise even activates and improves the parts of your brain involved in concentration and memory. It’s not just a workout for your body. You’re actually exercising your brain as well. And the brain, in some sense, should be treated like a muscle. It needs exercise. It needs stimulation (in the right amounts and types). It needs practice.

In addition, exercise produces endorphins. These chemicals make us feel good. Consequently, exercise is proven to boost our confidence and self-esteem. In turn, you can feel more confident when it comes time to deal with tough situations. In other words, you become more mentally resilient or mentally tough. You know you can handle it.

It Just Takes Practice

But, practice does make you better at coping with stressors. And regular exercise (as well as setting regular exercise goals) can help you practice mental toughness.

The best way to develop a regular exercise habit? Start small and slowly build. Set realistic and attainable goals. Slow is the way to go.

Then, reap the mental benefits. Become that positive and unstoppable force you’ve always dreamed of being!

Article by Krista Bugden from Daily Life.

This has been featured by Twinkl among their list of Mindful New Year's Resolutions.

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