Ask different people in the same town or city around the globe, and you’ll receive a wide range of opinions on why exercise is important. For some, it’s a chore for health, while others strive towards a fitness goal. For an increasing number however, exercise is a route to improved well-being. Some find solace in flowing through sun salutations, while others find release in burpees and hill sprints, pushing their limits while endorphins improve their mood as a result.
This then begs the question: is one type of workout better for well-being than another? And why do the effects differ for each person? At face value, it could be that our enjoyment of exercise and its feel-good effect is what we’re after, and whether that form of training helps us get there.
Calorie-torching, for example, doesn’t get much more effective than aerobic or cardiovascular activity, such as running, swimming and high-intensity interval training. Its multitude of benefits make it equally as essential for endurance athletes focused on building stamina and cardiovascular capability, as it is for those looking to lose weight or improve health. Of course, weight loss comes with its own feelings of enhanced well-being with an increase in confidence and self-worth, but that’s not the only motive for pushing yourself to the max.
London-based personal trainer Helen Barlow, known for her unwavering enthusiasm, positivity and boundless energy, credits high-impact exercise as giving her a ‘post-workout high’. And anyone who has experienced the feel-good endorphins that flood the body when we raise the heart rate and get the blood pumping, will agree.
This notion certainly isn’t new, but clinical research has only in recent years begun to demonstrate that this is truly the case. For example, we now know that the brighter frame of mind after an aerobic workout is the result of an exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to your brain, among other physiological reactions. In terms of how long it takes to feel this emotional boost, studies show that the mood-enhancing effects begin to kick in just five minutes after moderate intensity exercise such as going for a light run. For many, these endorphins are not just a route to a sunnier outlook in the short term, but also to reduced stress and better sleep.
As for which workouts to choose, personal trainer Barlow credits cardio-heavy workouts such as spinning and HIIT as her everyday go-to, and a boxing session after a particularly tough day. “The concentration necessary to master the combinations and technique help to take my mind off anything else,” she explains.
Interestingly, the rise of online workouts means most types of exercise can be done at home or alone in a gym, yet many opt to attend group workouts. “I love the atmosphere in classes,” says Barlow. “For me, it makes cardio so much more enjoyable.”
And it’s proven too. Working out together is now well-established as a social activity and considered a form of social bonding. Fitness classes have never been more popular, or trendy, as they are now. Recent years have seen metropolitan cities experience an influx of group classes ranging from barre to weight-lifting, filtering out to the suburbs too. Why? The social element increases our enjoyment of a workout, and the sheer breadth of options means there’s more to keep us interested. Variety is key, and nowhere is that truer than in the workout regimes on offer.