Empowering Women Through Fitness: Finding Joy in Movement

It’s no secret that physical movement is a non-negotiable part of my life. Whether I’m hitting the dojo for an intense session of tae kwon do or simply strength training at home, fitness is the gift that keeps on giving.

In my book The Omni Diet, I urged readers to exercise with a fighting spirit. That’s a fitting sentiment, because our exercise time is worth fighting for. Yes, we’re all busy as mothers, wives, and businesswomen, but we can only show up for those roles 100% if we’re taking care of ourselves. Exercise is a key part of that preparation.

Here, I’ll break down some of the benefits of exercise and why it’s truly a fail-safe step toward making women feel healthier, happier, and more empowered. Then we’ll explore the many ways you can blast out of your fitness rut (or resistance) by making exercise an anticipated and exciting part of your daily routine.

Mental Benefits of Exercise for Women

Exercise has very real impacts on the brain, according to a 2017 scientific review that examined its effects on mood, cognition, neurophysiology, and neurochemical pathways. It was determined that the 3 most consistent cognitive/behavioral effects after a single exercise session are improved executive functions, enhanced mood states, and decreased stress levels. Neurophysiological changes were also reported, especially in neurochemical levels—including neurotransmitters, metabolites, growth factors, and neuromodulators.

It’s no surprise, then, that exercise offers so many benefits for mental health. Even 5 minutes of moderate exercise has shown to boost happiness. One study even found exercise as effective for mood elevation as the antidepressant Zoloft! But the benefits of exercise carry on far longer than pharmaceuticals, without any negative side effects. People with mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, as well as those with general stress, can reduce symptoms through exercise.

In fact, I find that movement can be as relaxing as meditation. When I’m focused on my body and breathing during a kick-butt sweat session, it’s pretty much impossible to let my mind race or ruminate on problems. Then, afterward, I always feel mentally and emotionally calmer, clearer, and restored. I also get a much-needed burst of energy to tackle my day (one reason why I love exercising in the morning). And I notice a sense of greater peace, joy, and optimism that carries throughout my day and life. What’s not to love?

Benefits of Exercise for Women's Health | BrainMD

Physical Benefits of Exercise for Women

Many women start working out to achieve weight loss or a more toned, sexier-looking figure. But we shouldn’t overlook the numerous physical benefits of exercise that are taking place inside the body, including:

  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Reduced risk for heart attacks and diabetes
  • Greater lung efficiency
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved muscle and heart strength
  • Lowered production of stress hormones
  • Reduced levels of inflammation in the body
  • Decreased joint pain
  • Lower blood sugar
  • Boosted sensitivity to the hormone leptin, which signals your body to stop eating when full
  • Burning of belly fat, which can otherwise increase inflammation

For women’s health specifically, it’s also important to note the link between breast cancer and exercise. European researchers, looking at the data of 4 million women, noted that an hour or more of daily exercise cuts the risk of breast cancer, regardless of age or weight. Women who engaged in the most exercise lowered their risk by a whopping 12%.

Find Your Why

Whether you’re just starting an exercise routine or a seasoned veteran, don’t forget to find your why. I’ve outlined a long list of benefits for you here, but what are the top benefits you get from exercise? Perhaps you enjoy the way hiking or walking gets you outdoors in the fresh air and clears your head. Maybe yoga reduces your stress levels or gives you a burst of energy at mid-day. Or maybe you’ve noticed better focus and serious self-empowerment thanks to your martial arts practice. Write down all your benefits.

While you’re writing, don’t forget to add the domino effect that exercise creates throughout your day and your life. Ever notice how an intense workout leads to eating healthier foods afterward, or promotes a great night of sleep? Do you find that exercising with friends or family brings you closer together? And it’s definitely worth noting that working out boosts your metabolism, encouraging more calorie burn around the clock. Make sure to list all the positive effects you reap, even after the exercise ends.

This list will help motivate you to prioritize movement every day. But you’ll also want to pay attention to how you feel on those days when you don’t exercise. You might feel less energetic or more stressed-out, or you may find yourself reaching for unhealthy foods that make you feel even worse. Don’t beat yourself up when you’re starting or trying to stick with a routine—just remain aware. Use that information to adjust your behavior for next time, not to get stuck in self-pity!

Finding More Joy in Movement

In The Omni Diet, I outlined an exercise plan of strength training and interval training or walking, which requires only 30 to 60 minutes each day, 6 days a week. But it’s important to enjoy your movement routines, so I also recommend racking up daily activity in whatever ways you consider the most fun. I’m going to outline a few tried-and-true ideas here—try them out and see what works for you. Mix and match your tactics, and continue to change them up so you’re never bored.

  • Dance is an activity you can do anywhere, anytime—no equipment needed. Just put on some upbeat tunes and move your body. Of course, you don’t need to leave your living room or know any fancy moves. But you can opt for dance lessons or formal dance practice, which has the added benefit of exercising the mind and, in a class setting, offers brain-boosting social bonding time, too.
  • Yoga, stretching, or tai chi involve gentle movement, so they’re ideal for those who avoid high-impact routines. Studies have established the stress-reducing effects of mind-body exercises like yoga and tai chi. These kinds of exercise can also improve mental focus, memory, and other cognitive processes, while reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Outdoor cycling offers a one-two punch of feel-good effects. First, getting outdoors in a natural setting helps reduce depression and boosts mood (score bonus points for cycling near water). You’ll also receive a dose of vitamin D and increase the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. Meanwhile, cycling itself energizes the body and brain—just be sure to protect your head with a helmet.
  • Everyone knows I’m a huge fan of strength training. That’s because it has been designated as exercise’s #1 mood booster, according to a review of 38 studies. These researchers found that anaerobic activity like weightlifting improves mood in as little as 10 minutes, with the best results coming from moderate-intensity strength training.
  • My husband, Daniel, adores ping-pong, but any paddle or racket game is a great choice. Whether you enjoy pickleball, tennis, or badminton, you’ll be engaging multiple areas of the brain, increasing blood flow, and sharpening your hand-eye coordination and footwork. Plus, the bursts of energy you need to run around the court mimic interval training. It’s a total-body booster—and so much fun.

Changing Your Attitude Toward Exercise

In our busy world, taking time out to exercise is one of the most essential forms of self-care. When you start looking at movement as a joy and not a chore, you’ll find that your entire relationship to it changes. You’ll soon catch yourself grabbing more chances to move throughout your day. For women especially, this simple shift in perspective can literally be a lifesaver!

Tana Amen, BSN, RN