Exercise is a powerful tool for self-improvement. Its benefits reach beyond physical benefits to mental ones, from increased self-confidence to stress reduction. Not only will you see results, you'll also feel them inside.
"Exercise is success or failure based on your own effort — and on how you perceive your abilities," says Cee Cee Cunningham, a certified athletic trainer. Exercising gives you a sense of accomplishment, and can trigger changes in your overall mental state to help you focus, relax, cope and otherwise gain better control of your life.
Here are some exercises that can build your inner strength as much as your outer strength. They may help you shed a few pounds, too.
What it is: A series of postures and deep-breathing exercises practiced as part of an ancient Indian system of philosophy.
Physical results: Firms and tones muscles and increases flexibility.
How it empowers: Increases self-confidence. "Yoga is not about changing who you are, but accepting who you are," says Ginger LaRoche-Roth, owner and certified yoga instructor at In Yoga in Georgia. "When you get into a posture, you concentrate on how you feel and begin to become conscious of who you are." She adds, "You become awake in your life and therefore make better choices."
Yoga can also help you de-stress. Debbie Barnett, a yoga instructor from Newport Beach, CA, says, "You focus on deep breathing, which enables you to fully relax. When we get enough oxygen, we can fully relax and handle anything better, from losing weight to rush-hour traffic."
What it is: Exercises done on floor mats or specially designed equipment that help build your "core" — your back, abs, inner thighs and hips.
Physical results: Once you get your core stronger, your whole body becomes stronger. Pilates also increases flexibility.
How it empowers: "Pilates improves your posture," says Melissa Siple, American Council on Exercise master trainer and Pilates instructor in Warwick, RI. "It gives you a more confident carriage, which translates into a more confident character."
"It also increases your sense of control and self-awareness," adds Cunningham. "It makes you feel more capable of everyday tasks."
What it is: A routine involving lifting weights to develop muscle — free weights and weights on the bench.
Physical benefits: Improves strength and builds muscle, which increases your calorie building at rest.
How it empowers: Ever feel like weight training takes forever? Good. That means you're focusing — and improving your concentration. For instance, "When you do a bicep curl, you concentrate on moving that muscle; you learn how to focus on it," says Derek Barton, a former senior vice president of marketing for Gold's Gym International in Venice Beach, CA. "Take that skill back to the office and apply it to any project."
What it is: Something many of us avoid. Physical benefits: Enhances endurance, aids in weight loss, and improves cholesterol, blood pressure and overall health.
How it empowers: "You see someone who can't make it through it a 10-minute run, and soon they're doing fine with a 45-minute run," says Cunningham. "Runners really find a stick-to-it-ness."
Transfer that skill to work projects and relationships, and you're sure to find success. "There's also a release of endorphins, which can lead to stress and anxiety relief," says Cunningham. "And running is a great time to get introspective and contemplate the events of the day — and how to deal with them."