By now, most people understand the physical and mental benefits of exercise. Studies have consistently shown just how important exercise is in our lives and how it can affect both our physical and psychological well-being. Whether you hike five miles a day or only commit to fifteen minutes at a treadmill desk, the data shows that exercise works.
In this article we’re discussing that connection in greater detail, describing how the physical effects of exercise cause mental effects such as reducing depression, improving your sleep habits, and reducing anxiety. If you know you struggle with mental health, you should consult a professional to determine your best options, whether through medication or a specific workout regimen.
Exercise is not simply about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Of course, exercise improves physical health, muscle tone, and overall physique. It can also improve your sex life. But when thinking about exercise, people often forget the connection between physical health and mental health. People who exercise regularly tend to do it because of the physical-mental connection.
So, while physical activity improves aerobic capacity, muscle endurance, stability, strength, and overall performance, it can also have the same impact on your mental health. Exercise can decrease depression, anxiety, and ADHD. It can improve your insomnia and boost your overall mood. You also won’t have to be a fitness fanatic to render the benefits of exercise. Research indicates even modest amounts of exercise can improve your overall mood. No matter your age and fitness level, you can improve your exercise habits as a tool to improve your mental health, energy outlook, and get more out of your physical and mental performance.
Studies have shown that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. However, with exercise, you don’t have to deal with some of the less-than desirable side effects. A recent Harvard study found that running for just fifteen minutes a day or walking for an hour reduced the risk of depression by 26%. Additionally, research found that maintaining a fitness routine reduced the likelihood of addicts relapsing.
Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Above all, exercise promotes changes within the brain that include neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and confidence. Exercise also releases endorphins, which are powerful chemicals within the brain that make you feel energized and at-ease. Lastly, exercise can serve as a distraction, helping you clear negative thoughts, express some aggression, or work through difficult emotions in a healthy, physical way.
Exercise is a natural and effective anxiety treatment that relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being. Movement stimulates the brain and also serves as a distraction method to keep your brain focused. Focusing on the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, examining your breathing rhythm while you exercise, and noticing the feeling of the air against your skin are great ways to reduce your anxiety.
That’s because practicing mindfulness (simply being more aware of what’s going on in your body and around you) has shown to reduce the action of the default mode network (DMN) of the brain. Because you are focused on the present moment, you tend to worry less about the past and the future. Exercise can have the same effect. When your body is in motion and performing more complex movements than sitting at a screen, you have less time to engage in hypothetical thought. You also have less thought power to engage the DMN.
You likely know the feeling of being under stress. Your muscles tense, you might grit your teeth, your heart rate can seem out of whack. The resulting worry from these symptoms is only bound to compound your stress and make matters worse. Exercising breaks the cycle of symptom, worry, symptom, worry by releasing chemicals in the brain that help relax the muscles and relieve tension within your body.
One of the easiest ways to reduce symptoms of ADHD is exercise. Exercise has been shown to improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity results in an immediate boost to the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels. All of these affect focus and attention. Medications have the same effect on the brain but exercise has these effects without the potential side effects.
Evidence is mounting that by truly focusing on your body and the feelings you experience while you exercise, you can help unlock your nervous system and move out the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD. Instead of letting your mind wander, you should pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles. Exercise that involves complex motions, such as contra-lateral movements and movements that engage multiple muscle groups are especially effective.
Studies have shown that weekly periods of immersing yourself in nature have also shown to improve mental health. When you add exercise to your nature excursions, such as hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing, you increase the mental health benefits, such as decreased chances of depression and insomnia.
You don’t need to be diagnosed with a mental health ailment to improve your health. Whether you consider yourself a happy person or not, there’s always room for more. Regardless of your mental state, exercise can offer a mood boost, improve your outlook on life, and improve your overall mental well-being. Additionally, it can improve cognitive performance.
Memory and Cognition- Endorphins that make you feel better and help you concentrate will keep you mentally sharp for the tasks at hand. Exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells and can also reduce your chances of age-related decline.
Higher self-esteem- Whenever you invest in your mind and body, you’re guaranteed a return. It might not always be as life-changing as you expected but it fundamentally changes our physical and mental make up. Changing our mind and body also helps us build self-esteem. Whether you achieve that six-pack or not is somewhat irrelevant. What’s more important is that you establish a routine. When you establish a healthy routine it means you don’t break promises to yourself. Keeping your internal promises is an excellent way to build your self-esteem and realize a sense of achievement, no matter how seemingly insignificant it can seem.
Better sleep- Exercise has been shown to dramatically improve your sleep patterns.
More energy– Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you the energy to stay at ‘em all day. You can start with only a few minutes of exercise per day and increase your workout as you begin to feel more energized.
Stronger resilience: Facing emotional challenges is always stressful, no matter where you are in life. Exercise can help you build confidence while facing stressful situations and help you cope with what life throws at you in a healthy way. Instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, and negative behaviors, regular exercise helps you lead a healthy lifestyle, boosting your immune system and building confidence in your body and mind.
Exercise has numerous benefits for your mental and physical well-being and these benefits range from reducing your chances of depression to boosting your mood and improving sleep. You don’t need to commit to a vigorous workout regimen to achieve these benefits. The beauty of exercise is that no matter what you do, you will be able to reap the benefits. Even if you commit to 15 minutes a day of exercise, you will notice a difference in how you feel and your overall mood.