Amrita Prasad
Saturday, 12 January 2019

Research proves that physical exercise contributes towards your mental well-being as well. Amrita Prasad speaks to enthusiasts and experts to understand how fitness has helped them have a positive outlook, a calm mind, and a stronger approach to tackle challenges of life

Have you noticed how good and energised you feel post workout? When you break a sweat, your body releases endorphins — happy hormones that uplift your mood and make you feel good about yourself. 

New research suggests that physical exercise also boosts mental health. Some of the benefits that you reap as a result of fitness, include reduced levels of stress, better self control and confidence, lower levels of anxiety and so on.    

It has been observed that those who get into any kind of fitness become mentally strong and stay positive. Which is why more and more people are doing regular workout to transform the mind and, more importantly, to get better equipped to deal with the challenges of the current times. 

Protima Tiwary, a freelance content writer by day and a fitness blogger by night, believes fitness is an overall sense of well-being. “It isn’t so much about losing weight or staying a certain size. It is more about enjoying each day because you are mentally and emotionally strong to deal with life. Fitness, to me, is a 360-degree concept that involves great physical, mental  and emotional health,” says Tiwary who blogs at 

Tiwary started her fitness journey in 2013. It started off as a hobby but soon turned into a profession. “I had gained a lot of weight in 2012, thanks to all the binge eating and drinking. Then I started running. I saw results and it made me enjoy what I was doing,” says Tiwary who keeps shuttling  between Pune and Bengaluru for work.   

Many, like Tiwary, look at fitness as a source of happiness and strength. For instance, US-based Pradnya Vernekar, a certified holistic life coach, angel card reader and energy healer by profession, defines fitness as a combination of a fit body, mind and soul. Vernekar, who was going through borderline depression in 2016, started exercising at the age of 32. Talking about the changes that she has seen within herself, she  says that she has become more agile and has the energy to work round the clock. “I am a full-time life coach for women and a part-time writer. My work as a coach involves a lot of emotional healing of clients which requires mental strength and robustness. An active life provided me with just what I required for my career and daily life,” she says.   

Echoing Vernekar’s thoughts, Tiwary says that getting into fitness taught her how to stay focussed, patient and determined to succeed. “Here’s the thing — in fitness, your only competition is yourself.  When you’re working out, you’re constantly putting yourself to a test — you want to see if you can lift heavier weights, you want to see if you can go that extra 100 metre without giving up, you want to see if you are better than what you were yesterday. In this process, you learn humility, patience and focus. An injury taught me how to slow down, give myself a break and enjoy the hard work that I put in, instead of blaming myself for never being good enough. I learnt how important it is to be stress-free. In today’s age when you are trying to do so many things at a time, you hardly make yourself a priority. I was a victim of this and was out of action for almost four months. Today, I know the importance of mental and emotional well-being. This has helped me in my professional and personal life too. In this process, I have also learnt a lot about the importance of discipline and time management, staying humble, and being empathetic,” shares Tiwary.  

About two-and-a-half years ago, due to a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits, 30-year-old Ayan Banerjee had piled on 12 kilograms. He hit the gym in 2016 and since then, he has completely transformed his body and mind. Banerjee, who works at Cybage, believes in the funda, ‘The more you work out, the more you feel an adrenaline rush in your body’. “Workout helps me divert my mind from negative and other unnecessary fuss in my day-to-day life. There are a lot of blockages in the mind and exercising helps clear all the knots and obstructions,” he says.    

The only reason Munich-based Chinamyee Pai started practising yoga was to get more focussed and work on her mind. “Along the way, I realised that yoga can be used as a tool to improve my fitness level. For others, it might be the other way around. My students have predominantly joined yoga to become fit and to lose weight, realising that they have become calmer in this process. If one wants to train their focus, one should train their balancing postures. For becoming calm and creating space in the mind, one should train their flexibility. Thus by mindfully training the body and mind while exercising, one can influence other aspects of their life,” she says.  

Many associate mental well-being and peace with meditation and never really think of physical exercise as a way to change the way they think and behave. Tiwary, who has seen a remarkable change within her, says that she used to be very aggressive and judgemental, but gymming taught her to focus on her skills. “It was like I was seeing the world in a completely new way — I saw how we lacked humility, how we used negative words to pull each other down, how our words affected those around us, how we lacked patience and felt entitled to things. I wish I could explain exactly how we learn all this, but this is an experience that you will understand only when you go through it yourself. Today, I am patient, forgiving and I have learnt the beautiful quality of empathy which I wish to share with everyone through my blog and social media. On my Instagram page, I not only talk about physical health but emotional and mental health too,” she shares.  

For Vernekar, an active lifestyle has become an essential part of her life. She continued to do yoga and extensive walking during her pregnancy too. “I had sore knees and back pain which was relieved by doing exercises. The active routine helped in my postpartum recovery too after I had an emergency C section. In less than a week, I was up and about. It just proves how exercise helps you build a better life every single day. You feel good from inside, so happiness and positivity are just a few by-products of a healthy lifestyle,” she says.   

Shivoham, celebrity fitness trainer and co-founder of SF Health Tech (a fitness equipment brand), completely believes that our body achieves what our mind believes in. The  level to which we can push our body is a reflection of how strong we mentally are. 

Shivoham, who has trained Aamir Khan, Ranveer Singh, Kangana Ranaut, Arjun Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan, Jacqueline Fernandez and Parineeti Chopra and others, has been in the business for more than a decade now. He has often been quoted saying, ‘The mind should also be involved because once you do that, the physical aspect will just flow into it as being mentally fit is as important as being physically fit’. 

He says, “Fitness helps you attain the stillness of the mind and makes you calm and peaceful. It strengthens and improves your tenacity. The minute you decide you can do something, you can. When you lift heavy weights and you start to go beyond what you can imagine, you feel triumphant. You start implementing this in your real life too — things that seem impossible, start to appear possible for you. Fitness makes you strong not just physically but mentally too, and the stronger the foundation, the higher you rise.”  

What you do in the gym, doesn’t stay in the gym, its positive impact accompanies you and makes you more focussed, level-headed and sensible. Banerjee says, “It has helped me with better decision-making skills and given me the courage to try out new things that I might have been dubious about otherwise. When you see people walk that extra mile to get fitter, it teaches you the art of not giving up easily. There is always a positivity associated with it which teaches you to go on, trust your capabilities and boost your confidence level.”    

Pai adds, “Strength, for me, is to have a calm mind. Maintaining ease and joy while practising challenging asanas helps you cultivate the same attitude while facing stressful moments in your daily life. If you have a wholesome yoga or exercise routine, it will transform not just your body but also your mind.”

Tiwary says that fitness has helped her cope with problems. She explains, “No, it isn’t one of those ‘If you’re angry, hit the gym’ things. This is a slow process, and it took me months to realise how far I had come. I think hitting the gym made me more ambitious. I don’t settle for anything that doesn’t meet my goals. Plus the post workout high is enough to see me through the day. I need more willpower to not move a muscle on my rest days than I do on days I am hitting the gym,” she shares.   

Sharing the same emotion, Vernekar says that weight lifting is a great way to build your stamina and tell yourself, ‘You have it in you’. “You get a new high every time you increase the weight while lifting!” she exclaims. 

Our hectic lifestyles and work commitments don’t allow us to spend much time with ourselves, hence Banerjee treats fitness as a means to spend time with himself and do something good for his body and mind. “You don’t always have to look at how your body is transforming initially, but what matters is whether you feel motivated. If you feel less confident about yourself or think you don’t have enough motivation in life to chase your dreams and achieve your goals, fitness and training hard can come to your rescue and infuse a new energy in you,” he says.  

Banerjee has been pushing himself everyday at the gym, which has made him more patient and calm, and has also improved his performance at work. “I am trying to get better and better everyday because I am more focussed now. I spend a lot of energy at the gym, exercising and sweating, so when I walk out, I am a lot more calmer and patient and don’t allow negative thoughts to come to mind. The physical transformation and the compliments you receive is like the cherry on the top. You feel happy that you can fit into a certain kind of clothes and you look good. That has a lot of good impact on the mind and keeps you cheerful and positive. You develop self-belief and stop looking for validation from others,” he concludes.

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