This is how and why exercise immediately affects your body and mind.
How do you feel after your workout? Red, sweaty and tired, if you’re anything like us. While you know the reason for this is because you’ve got your heart rate up from lifting something heavy or quickly putting one foot in front of the other, do you really know the science of what’s going on during your session?
We believe that understanding the effects of exercise is important to not only make you more motivated but also to help you better understand and care for your body and mind. So, whilst we know there are important long-term benefits to exercising, we asked trainer and Strong Women ambassador Esmée Gummer to fill us in on the short-term effects of training – i.e. what happens during and immediately after your workout.
So, here’s a non-exhaustive list of the changes you experience during exercise, why and how they happen and what it means for your body and mind.
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Let’s start with the physical. You don’t have to be a scientist to notice that one of the first things to happen when you move is your heart beating faster – but that’s not where it stops for the cardiovascular system. As your heart rate rises, your stroke volume also increases, explains Esmée: “this refers to the volume of blood that pumped in a contraction of the heart muscle. The higher your stroke volume, the more blood that you’re pushing out in each pump.”
You’ll also notice changes in your respiratory system: your breathing rate goes up, and your tidal volume, or how much air you can hold in your lungs, increases too.
The reason for all of these processes is in order to increase the amount of oxygen that can get to the working muscles. Those muscles need extra oxygen in order to break down the glucose into energy to power through the workout.
As we tend to be short on oxygen, the body also starts producing lactic acid as another form of energy: “When this happens, we get a sensation of pain,” Esmée says. It feels like a stitch or burning sensation, and while it might make you want to give up, it’s actually happening to help you power through.
Your body temperature will rise too, as the muscles produce heat energy when they contract. That is, of course, why we then end up pretty sweaty.
You’ll also experience muscular fatigue during and after the workout, especially in strength training when you’re training the muscles until they can’t do anymore reps. It means that the muscles will be able to produce less force than they were before you worked out and explains why, at the beginning of the session, you could do 10 press ups and now you’re struggling to get out two reps.
Hands up who’s finished a workout barely able to string a sentence together? That’s because it’s not just the body that gets tired during workouts, but the mind too, as you have just exerted a huge amount of energy. But it doesn’t take long for you to feel the energy boosting effects of working out, as the increase in oxygenated blood flow makes you feel more alert and awake.
Then there’s the mood boosting effects. “We know that endorphins are released when we exercise,” says Esmée. But the reason why the happy hormones are triggered in your body might surprise you: “It’s not just because you’re enjoying yourself or simply because of the movement itself.
“Endorphins are released when the body and mind senses stress and pain in order to reduce our perception of the pain and the negative effects of stress. That’s why when we finish working out, we’ve forgotten about the things we were worried about pre-workout too,” Esmée explains.
And these hormones aren’t the only reason you’ll feel good after a workout. Your self-esteem has also been proven to rise, “as exercise is a quick way to prove to yourself that you can achieve something,” Esmée says. If you’ve ever gone in thinking you can’t be bothered and yet still managed to smash out a session, or convinced yourself you couldn’t add an extra 5kg onto your personal best but done it anyway, you’ll know the little boost you get.
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Post-workout, you might find you also feel more productive. In fact, a study by Briston University found that on workout days, employees were 21% more concentrated and 22% better at finishing work on time. “I know for me, as soon as I do a workout I’m ready for the day. I want breakfast, to get dressed, to get out of that door and complete my chore list,” says Esmée.
We don’t know about you, but that’s convinced us to go and workout right now.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).