My level of activity always ebbs and flows, and right before I started bouldering (aka rock climbing without a harness) a few months ago, I was certainly ebbing. The benefit to this pattern is that when I flow again, I can really see how it benefits my life. I always oscillate between vastly different activities, from yoga to kickboxing (and always and forever biking), but certain effects on my life are shared by most activities.
Everyone knows the obvious benefits from exercise; increase energy, improve mood, build metabolism-boosting muscle, burn calories, deal with stress, etc., but I wanted to discuss the other benefits of exercise that I have noticed (at least for myself), in the more subtle realm.
PROGRESS WITH PERSEVERANCE
Firstly, improvement in the exercise of choice, making great strides, overcoming obstacles, can show us how things that we felt were out of our reach can become within it, with perseverance. That demonstration is so encouraging and motivating. It shows us not only our physical strength, but our mental strength for persevering, which can be applied beautifully in other areas. "By perseverance everything reaches its target", so that is one mighty fine quality to maintain, to meet any goal.
On the note of progress, sometimes we get worse, or fail! Bouldering is especially prone to that, as routes require specific muscles and grips and grip strength, and it literally changes by the day depending what order you do the routes in, how you recovered, etc, so to a degree you kind of never know which routes you'll be able to do! Anyway, my point is, that it shows you that just because you are seemingly declining, does not mean you're not also ultimately progressing, in the big picture. You just need to keep practicing to make decline < progression. Also, building a confidence in failing, knowing that it's actually a step towards learning something new, can increase our resilience.
An interesting constant in many exercises is the public "display" (unless you keep it to the confines of your own house). Honestly, I was so terrified to climb in front of people at first, I felt incredibly vulnerable. It was way worse than, say, running, because there is a large crowd that sits behind you, patiently waiting to take their turn, observing intently. I would try to only go when the gym was deserted, but thankfully my partner could not join me during desert hours due to his "normal" work hours, and I wanted us to climb together, so I was forced to go during peak hours.
The shift in how much I cared about being observed and public scrutiny (which is zero at this gym, by the way, but was overwhelming in my mind) was significant. There are times now when I even ENJOY climbing with an audience, and it has nothing to do with how well I do, because I usually fail! It's so liberating to stop giving a f**k, and I'm sure this will affect other f**ks given in life, as well. I think caring less about others' judgements (even if said judgements are illusions of your mind anyway) is an incredibly helpful quality that I notice tends to increase as we age, and could be hastened by something like literally flailing on a wall in front of strangers (as sometimes no dignity can possibly be maintained, so one is forced to let go of it).
I believe the most important major shift for me is how exercise/movement triggers momentum in my entire life, physical and mental/emotional, for things to move forward and expand. I find that sometimes being physically stagnant leads to a stagnancy in these other areas. Once I introduce more movement again, surrounding life loosens up and follows suite. For example, I was at a standstill with my business; I started being physically active and that triggered me to be more active in building my business, as well. I haven't pinpointed how this happens.
Perhaps it's an energetic shift, it's literally momentum magic infusing my life! Or perhaps it's a general desire for improvement in all areas of life, positively infecting areas one by one. I definitely think a part of the magic is that the excitement of new activity rescues me from banality and from succumbing to stagnancy, to not branching out. It throws in an aspect of adventure, which can light that fire in general, to be used wherever I please. The momentum is a beautiful pattern I've noticed with every flow, and I'm so thankful for it.
So those are the subtle, yet glorious, effects of exercise in my life. If you're in the "ebb" of your activity spectrum, I hope this motivates you to try something new, and watch the momentum and shifts that develop from its introduction. You know it'll feel damn good, for one or many reasons!