02/06/2013 02:07 pm ET Updated Apr 08, 2013

Sweat Therapy

Fitness is once again a hot topic in the new year. (As always, it is among the top three resolutions.) While losing weight and getting healthier may be the main reasons that fitness tops the resolution lists, what's lost in the conversation is the mental benefit of fitness.

Personally, I need to sweat every day, not because of how it makes me look, but how it makes me feel. There are numerous studies on the positive impact that exercise has on the psyche. Whether it's a solo run or a group class, the endorphins leave one feeling uplifted and overall better than prior to exercising. Sports medicine expert Dr. Jordan Metzl has said, "Exercise is medicine: It is the most powerful preventive health drug known to humankind." I have to agree. It's sweat therapy.

I am not the first person to overhear, "That spin class was better (and cheaper) than a therapy session." Group fitness instructors are now taking on the role of not only motivating people to push themselves to their physical limits, but also to open their minds and develop perspective on their lives. If you look up sweat therapy in Wikipedia (yes, of course!), you will find this term actually has strong cultural roots tracing back thousands of years to the Islamic Hammam, American Indian Sweat Lodge, and the African Sifutu, among other cultural group sweat fests. So, how does this translate to today's sweaty fitness scene?

Your Instructor = Your Modern-Day Therapist

Not every instructor can or should act as your therapist, trust me, there are plenty of instructors that crank up the music and have you focused on one thing and one thing alone, going hard and burning calories. Yet there are quite a few instructors who are taking their mission beyond just making you push hard. These instructors speak about life's challenges and try to put it all in perspective as they lead you through your workout. At times, your mind escapes your stresses and other times you might feel like you have figured it all out and everything is simply going to be okay. This, one might argue, can feel very similar to a session with a therapist. You leave the class feeling centered and grounded, and relaxed. What's more, it's not just a yoga instructor that will lead you to this feeling of zen. It's happening in cardio-intensive cycling classes and even boot camps.

A New Wave of Mind + Body Classes: It's More Than Just Fitness.

A few years ago, I attended one of my first "intenSati" classes, led by Patricia Moreno. Similar to other workouts, it left me sore for days, but unlike any other workout, the class focused on positive affirmations. Moreno, the mastermind behind this method of mind/body exercise, recited empowering affirmations about facing your fears, transforming your relationship to your life, and being a more authentic human being for 60 minutes while taking my mind off of what was probably hundreds of squats and lunges that my body performed quickly from one interval to the next. Today, there are many classes that have the same effect, whether it is a SoulCycle ride or even a group bootcamp. Renowned trainer and wellness guru David Kirsch, who counts models, celebrities and many other high-profile clients among his core group, bases his training around a "sound mind, sound body" philosophy, where he helps his clients uncover the connection between the mind, body and spirit to achieve their perfect physique.

The Best 45 Minutes of Your Day: The Ultimate Outlet.

No matter what you are going through in your life -- a sick family member, a troubled relationship, a difficult child, or a demanding boss -- a 45-minute sweat session might just be the best outlet of your day. Take a look at others in a group fitness class, and you will see that each person is working through their issues in one way or the other. My running partner and I often refer to our long marathon-training runs as our "personal timeouts" -- we take the time to escape work and our lives and chat through every mile of our run.

So, in closing, as you think about why you want to make 2013 a fitter year, think not only about how you want to look, but think about how sweating will make you feel. Make sweating your therapy. Added bonus -- you are burning calories at the same time. It's all about multitasking, in my world.

Disclosure: David Kirsch is part of an expert board for my company, FITiST.

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