As we approach the holiday season, stress levels seem to skyrocket. Whether it’s the headaches caused by travel, bloated social calendars, financial strain associated with holiday gifting and vacations, or spending “quality time” with family members — blowing off steam is critical for your sanity. But before you reach for a glass of wine or entire pumpkin pie, consider treating yourself to some prioritized “me time” with a fun workout class that actually offers some serious de-stressing benefits.
By now the mood-boosting benefits of working out have been well documented, but let’s get specific, shall we? Endorphins are the most well known “feel good” chemical that produce the exercise high you experience right after a kickass class. Released from the pituitary gland, these are the guys that help reduce pain and increase pleasure. Add to that the release of dopamine — our pleasure chemical — and serotonin, which boosts happiness. With all this good stuff floating around your body and your brain post workout, you are basically guaranteed to walk out feeling better than when you walked in.
Feeling frustrated? Overwhelmed? In need of a joy burst? Tap the pleasure double-play of dance. A recent study showed that coordinated movements light up our brain’s reward centers — just think about how you feel watching those big dance numbers from La La Land. Additionally, movement synchronized to music is proven to hit a number of pleasure and reward zones, including the orbitofrontal cortex (directly behind your eyes), the ventral striatum (the midbrain region), and the cerebellum (the base of the brain). There are also indications that reward centers are connected with motor areas of the body — which is why we all start tapping our feet along with the beat of our fave song. There are even indications that simply watching dancers can ignite these centers — but we say DIY.
It’s ironic that a world so “connected” by modern technology actually feels more isolated ever before. In an article for Harvard Business Review, former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy stated that 40 percent of adult Americans feel lonely — that’s a lot. Even bigger news, loneliness actually reduced people’s lifespan at the same rate of those who smoked 15 cigarettes a day. A quick way to combat this feeling? A group workout class. We all have friends that can be hard to wrangle — people have commitments and work and “don’t feel like it” all of the time. But a fitness class takes place at a certain time and place with a group of people all working towards a common goal. When that class is a dance-based workout you have even more of a sense of community, as you all attempt to master the choreography and feel a sense of achievement once the routine has been completed. Even if you go home alone immediately after class, the spirit of the whole stays with you after — and you may even make a friend.
Sometimes we all need a little inspiration — and that can come in the form of their favorite fitness instructor. These positive role models are often cheerful, encouraging and of course, healthy. For many, they embody #goals. In a world where we are often bombarded by mansplaining, trolls on the internet, and critical family members, it can be downright refreshing to walk into a class and know that the woman in the front of the room is there simply to support and motivate. They want you to change because YOU want to change, and their only job in that hour-long class is to help you accomplish that task to the best of your ability. (We really do love you!)
So remember, as the busy season approaches, while there are certainly moments to lounge on the couch binge-watching the “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” while eating that pumpkin pie, more often than not a good sweat session will provide more rewards, and lead to a more relaxed and balanced you.