Exercise is good for us: it makes our bodies stronger, it improves our physical health, it contributes to weight loss and even add years to our life. But the benefits of exercise go beyond just the physical – it is one of the most effective ways to maintain a healthy mind and there is now plenty of research to back this up as over the past decade scientists have been researching the connection between exercise and mental health more seriously. No matter your age, sex or body type, studies show that exercise provides beneficial mental-benefits, so let’s look into some of the mental health benefits of exercise and see why it is important to exercise for a healthier mind?
- Exercise boosts Happy Chemicals, otherwise known as endorphins. (Personally I call my gym session my happy pill !). Endorphins are powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirit which makes you feel good and happy! Regular exercise increases the development and release of endorphins to such an extent that you may be miserable before a workout but then leave feeling elated.
- Exercise prevents Cognitive Decline. Exercise encourages the growth of new brain cells: every time you are active in some capacity your brain is improving because new cells are growing and the growth of these new brain cells helps to prevent age-related neural-decline because your brain is continuing to produce new cells when others may be declining.
- Exercise Sharpens your Thinking and improves your memory. The same endorphins that make you feel happy also help you concentrate. Endorphins help your mind focus on tasks-at-hand. Studies have found that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) are greater in volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.
- Exercise Reduces Stress: when we are stressed, our minds go into overdrive which can cause some serious stress-related physical symptoms within our bodies. Stress leads to our muscles tightening, our bodies get tense and you may well experience tightness in your chest, painful headaches, insomnia and stomach aches. Exercise is an effective way to alleviate these symptoms as physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension. Since the body and mind are so closely linked when your body feels better, so will your mind.
- Exercise is a powerful Depression Fighter: research shows that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. Since exercise is a completely natural process it can help to treat depression without the side-effects that may come with pharmaceutical drugs. Regular exercise every week can prevent you from relapsing into further depression
- Exercise is a completely natural Anti-Anxiety Treatment: if you pay attention to your body post-workout you’ll notice that exercise relieves stress and tension whilst enhancing well-being through the release of endorphins which boosts both mental and physical energy. Try to be present whilst you exercise because paying attention and being mindful will help you reduce anxiety even further. By really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise you are adding a mindfulness piece that may interrupt the flow of worries that are running through your mind.
- Lastly, exercise promotes Higher Self-Esteem: regular exercise is one of the best habits you can implement into your life to benefit your mind, body and soul. Once you start getting into shape, you’ll feel better about your appearance. By setting up and meeting small exercise goals you’ll feel a sense of achievement. As exercise becomes a regular habit it will make you feel strong and powerful. These feelings of strength, accomplishment and a more positive personal-opinion of your appearance is an incredibly powerful combination of emotions and thoughts to help boost your self-worth.
I can always find countless reasons to exercise but I hope this gives you a few reasons to stay active! Perhaps the next time you’re weighing up the benefits of going for a run vs watching TV you will put on your trainers and hit the road. You’ll definitely feel better for it – physically and mentally !!