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Exercise and the Brain

Serena Mao

Running, swimming, playing sports: all are examples of the infamous and eternal struggle we call exercise. We all know physical exertion is necessary in our lives; without it, we would lose flexibility, speed, and what some consider a pleasant appearance. People often think of staying fit as a completely physical endeavor, as opposed to intellectual aspects such as studying or problem solving. Contrary to what most realize, a large part of exercise is intimately involved with how we think.

Take the example of running the mile. There might be some people that are on the cross country team––they eat protein rich diets, drink lots of water, and attend practice every single day. Of course, they are physically stronger and will run faster. On the other hand, people who sit on the couch all day inevitably have a disadvantage. However, in between the physical aspect, our mental involvement in the activity is also important. Especially for exercise, our perseverance is essential. Our ability to handle pain and our willingness to work hard even through difficulty often determines results. For example, even if someone is strong, they may run slower than someone who is less physically capable just because their fear of pain and unwillingness to keep going is higher. On that last lap, those who bite the bullet and keep running through the pain will be more successful than those who immediately give up, independent of their initial physical state. In other words, regardless of how muscular one is, their mindset is extraordinarily influential in the end result.

Exercise and physical ability eventually become a vicious cycle. Those that are more willing to handle short term suffering for long term benefits––in other words, exercise now to become stronger later––are also those that will see better results in the long term. We all know it’s difficult to convince oneself to go to the gym again, do one extra workout, or run that extra lap. Thus, those with the mental conviction to do so are those that will reach their goals faster and more efficiently. Theoretically, there is likely a correlation between those that are stronger mentally and those that are stronger physically. Although it may seem counterintuitive that a physical ability be determined by our way of thinking, it’s often how it ends up. Overall, to stay fit or build muscle, it’s necessary to muster the confidence and perseverance required to do so.

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