Can exercise make me a better person? - Alessio Bianchi
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Alessio Bianchi - exercise better person

Can exercise make me a better person?

Exercise helps to keep our bodies healthy, but does it help our minds as well? Can it make you a better person? The answer might surprise you, and hopefully motivate you to get off the sofa and into your trainers.

Anyone who has ever procrastinated about starting a new exercise regime is probably what is known as an avoider. They imagine (or know about) discomfort and fatigue, so they put it off. Procrastination is common, but in this case there’s a sure-fire way to get past it.

Exercise isn’t just about losing weight or reducing the chance of a heart attack, as important as those goals are. Exercise is an example of how our mental and physical health are tightly woven together.

Exercise can be a shortcut to being a better person

First, let’s be clear: You can live well, treat others decently and be happy without bench pressing your body weight or even being able to touch your toes.

But here’s the secret: Safe, sensible exercise can bring mindfulness closer, faster.

This is because one of the greatest challenges in pursuing mindfulness is dealing with distractions, which can be frustrating and disheartening.

Exercise is a chance to create an artificial bubble around yourself, with a goal that helps you to focus. Just doing a good gym session can be like a mindfulness ‘super drug’: you set an achievable goal, break it into small parts, then focus on doing a fairly simple thing repetitively. The same goes for swimming, running, cycling and wellness-related exercise like pilates and yoga. This process prompts your body to secrete all manner of useful hormones that help your mood, as well as helping with digestion and sleep.

Hundreds of studies link exercise to improved mental health. The NHS says physical activity can “improve wellbeing because it brings about a sense of greater self-esteem, self-control, and the ability to rise to a challenge”.

Of course, exercise isn’t a magical cure on its own. Plenty of physically active people are unhappy, but it is a powerful tool for you to boost your mood if you pair it with living more mindfully.

Exercise’s virtuous circle

By exercising to help you live more mindfully, you can also benefit from a virtuous circle. A study by researchers in Kentucky showed that increased mindfulness helps people to exercise more consistently. That’s right, exercise makes you happier and happier people exercise more. Around and around it goes, getting you physically and mentally healthier.

Of course, exercising is not always easy, and that makes it even more valuable for developing mindfulness. Most of us don’t want to run when it’s raining, or you may be struggling with a particular exercise. You may even get injured.

Mindfulness means being at ease with failure, as author and entrepreneur Letitia Gasca explained in a TED Talk in 2018: “Sharing your failures makes you stronger, not weaker,” Gasca says. “Being open to my vulnerability helped me embrace life lessons I wouldn’t have learned previously.”

In other words, exercise is a golden opportunity to practise a vital aspect of mindfulness: not being able to lift that weight or beat your best time can help you to be a better person.

Exercise helps you connect with others

One of the criticisms of mindfulness is that some people use it to retreat inwards. That’s not what mindfulness is about, and mindful exercise is a way of avoiding that trap by using it to engage with others.

John Bingham, the legendary US marathoner, was a champion of the slow runner. He was never fast – his best time was more than four hours – but he is enthusiastic, positive and a gifted author and communicator.

He has helped to pioneer a new approach to the marathon for people who aren’t bothered about speed. They’re happy, like-minded people who help to organise marathons with bands at each mile post and beer at the finish line.

One of Bingham’s great quotes about running a marathon is: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” There is your exercise mantra, right there.

Starting a new exercise regime requires some courage and determination and achieving that goal will put other goals within your reach. It will give you opportunities to build mindfulness through goal setting and focusing, and it enables you to escape the distractions of the world while also making you healthier and happier.

Alessio Bianchi is a lifestyle blogger who is passionate about living his best life and helping others to do the same.