Ashley Graham, who has put plus-size models on the map, gets a special benefit from working out that makes exercise one of the most enjoyable things she does. It helps reduce stress and makes her less anxious.
The 30-year-old star is one of the world’s most in-demand models and recently appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Although she’s considered “plus-size” in the fashion industry she really represents “normal size” for most women.
“The greatest reward working out offers is knowing that when my body works out, my mind feels well. I’m not as anxious or irritated, and I’m calmer and feel more equipped to make good decisions about food and life in general,” she says.
“In other words, I’m not quick to snap on anyone.”
Experts tend to agree. Exercise is considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate, according to the group.
It’s well known that exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. They also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults and are the most common psychiatric illnesses in the United States. Exercise may well extend beyond stress relief to improving anxiety and related disorders, the ADAA says.
Ashley says she also focuses on breathing correctly to make the most of her workouts.
“It calms me down. Now I’m ready; now I’m chill. Even as I work out, I remind myself to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. It really helps me to push through that last 20 minutes of exercises.”
Ashley usually does weight training, cardio exercises and boxing as her workouts of choice. “I feel my best when I go to the gym five days a week,” she says.
“There are some days I feel fat. I’m not convinced there’s going to be a moment where every woman in the world wakes up and feels like a million dollars.
“So, what I want to do is give women the tools that will help when those moments come up. Sometimes it can be as easy as telling yourself that you are beautiful.”
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