Working Out Is Powerful Brain Training

Life is hard, and you’ll be better off if you practice doing hard things — like making your body purposefully uncomfortable

Anna Held
Published in
4 min readApr 16, 2019


Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash

LLast year, I fell on my face more times than I had in all the previous years of my life combined. Over time, my body became peppered with tiny bruises as I crashed to the floor again and again.

To be fair, the wounds were all self-inflicted. I was working on my crow, a yoga pose that involves balancing on your hands while perching your knees on your triceps, nose inches from the mat. It took me months of regular practice to conquer my fear of tipping over enough to get both feet off the ground.

Finally pulling it off felt like an accomplishment in more ways than one. Perseverance has never come naturally to me, but over the past couple years, as I’ve gotten more into both yoga and running, I’ve noticed that’s changing — in my workouts and in other areas of my life. I also get frustrated less easily and approach difficult projects with more energy and less trepidation than I used to. Maybe it’s just a consequence of getting older and wiser, but I suspect that my increase in regular exercise has also played a role.

It’s not exactly a secret that exercise can have a positive effect on both mental and physical health. Research has highlighted its potential in alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety, raising mood, and improving sleep. Perhaps less well known — but no less real — is the role exercise can play in making us more patient, more resilient, and better at solving problems.

Exercise can be a tool for self-improvement, if you choose to treat it as such.

Jacob Ballon, MD, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, relates exercise to the work done in therapy. “We think about it as being a microcosm for the rest of [a patient’s] life,” he says. “That which happens in therapy tends to repeat itself outside of therapy.” In the same way, purposefully pushing your body to the point of discomfort is the implementation of a simple but powerful idea: Life is hard, and you’ll be better off if you practice doing hard things…