Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Is Your Body Telling Others About You?

Many of us have issues with how our bodies look. You want to improve it, that is why you are in the gym. I hear it everyday. "I need to flatten my stomach!" "What can I do for my arms?" These are very personal body image issues, but I don't want to discuss them in this post. There is something even more powerful that your body is saying and you may not even be aware of it.

Our body language says more sometimes than our spoken words. Your facial expressions, your posture, and how you move tells others so much about you. It is sometimes difficult to hide your feelings or state of mind. Your brain, emotions and your physical movements are intricately connected. When you are feeling good and confident you will stand up tall, make eye contact, smile often. On the other hand, when you feel tired, depressed, or not confident you will keep your head down, shoulders slouched, and move slowly. Sometimes just seeing someone else's body language will affect how you feel. Of course, we would all want to be around happy, confident, extroverted people because they make us feel good. We feel emotionally drained when we are around tired, depressed, negative people.

What does this have to do with exercise? Isn't exercise supposed to make you feel good and improve you mood? Well, yes and no. Studies and anecdotal evidence show that people who perform a bout of exercise usually report feeling better about themselves. Generally, the exercise is some sort of moderate-intensity aerobic-type exercise. Well, problem solved. Go walk or ride your bike and you will feel better and this will be reflected in your body language.

A single bout of exercise is a good stress relief and gets the endorphins flowing, but how large is this effect and how long does it last? More importantly, will your body language actually be more positive? We have to take a step back to fully understand the impact of exercise on your body language.

Our posture and how we move is affected by our sedentary lifestyle. We sit all day and develop tight hips, a head-forward posture, and slouched shoulders. We lose strength in our upper back and glutes. Over time, this feable posture is our norm. We can't stand tall and look confident even if that is how we feel. So, our body language is always somewhat negative even if we are feeling good and confident!

Some exercises reinforce this weak, non-confident posture. Lots of crunches, chest press, curls, and leaning forward on the stairmill or elliptical trainer all reinforce our sedentary posture. They contribute to the pull of gravity on our bodies. Less popular exercises like deadlifts, rows, cleans, snatches and squats can help you develop not only the strength to lift heavy things (which is fun in itself), but they also contribute to a more confident, positive, taller posture. Andrew Heffernan proposed an interesting, related hypothesis after watching his 15-week old son try to move. In his Deadlift and Row Your Way to Happiness hypothesis, he states that performing exercises that develop your posterior chain (upper and lower back, glutes, and hamstrings) will make you happier. He states, "Those posterior-chain muscles are really the ones that propel us into action, into the world. They allow us to stand tall, move and affect our environment. "

In America, depression levels are at an all-time high, while our activity levels are at an all-time low. We spend more time sitting than moving. We feel stressed more than ever and ingest caffeinated beverages like water. Of course, our body language will display these feelings of fatigue, depression, and lack of confidence. Break this psychological downward spiral with proper strength training. Learn how to an incorporate exercises like deadlifts, rows, and snatches in your training regimen. Soon enough, you will see your strength levels soar. More importantly, your body language will be telling others that you are strong, confident, happy and capable, even if you still feel like your body isn't perfect.

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