Exercise has become an extremely important part of my self-care routine. I love the way I feel after a good workout and the changes I see in my body over time. More importantly than this, exercise is essential for my mental health. I have written before about my struggle with my mental health. I suffered from situational depression. Exercise played a key role in helping to treat and heal my depression. Even though I now consider myself mentally healthy, I continue to exercise to keep my mental health in check.
Over the past decade or so, Scientists have been more seriously researching the connection between exercise and mental health. No matter your age, sex or body type, studies show that exercise provides amazing mental-benefits. If you’re trying to implement certain habits in your life to help improve mental health, it’s important to start some type of fitness routine. Here are some of the ways that exercise can help:
1. Boost Happy Chemicals (otherwise known as endorphins)
Ever heard of “runners-high?” This is the state of euphoria coupled with reduced anxiety and a lessened ability to feel pain that you may feel after extended aerobic activity. This “high,” is actually your brain releasing endorphins, which are the chemicals that make 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 and leave feeling elated.
2. Reduced Stress
When we get stressed, our minds go into overdrive and cause some serious stress-related physical symptoms in our bodies. Stress leads to our muscles tightening and our bodies getting tense. You may experience tightness in your chest and painful headaches. While stressed, you may also develop serious conditions like insomnia, heartburn or stomach aches.
Exercise is an effective way to alleviate these symptoms. Physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.
3. Prevent Cognitive Decline
Exercise encourages the growth of new brain cells. Think about that for a moment. Every time you are active in some capacity, your brain is improving because new cells are growing. 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.
4. Sharpen Thinking & Memory
The same endorphins that make you feel happy also help you concentrate. Endorphins help your mind focus on tasks-at-hand. Many 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.
5. Increase Relaxation and Sleep
Exercise increases the quality of sleep you get. What this means is that exercise increases the time spent in deep sleep which many studies have found to be the most physically restorative sleep phase. Deep sleep helps to support cardiac health, boost immune function and helps to control anxiety and stress. Exercise can also help increase the duration of sleep you get at night. Physical activity requires you to use a lot of energy which helps you feel more tired and ready to rest at the end of the day.
6. Reduce Depression
Some research shows that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. Research also shows that regular exercise every week can prevent you from relapsing into further depression. Since exercise is a completely natural process, it can help to treat depression without the side-effects that may come with pharmaceutical drugs.
Exercise is extremely powerful as an anti-depressant for various reasons. Arguably the most important is that it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including reduced inflammation, neural growth, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. As mentioned earlier, exercise also releases endorphins, which are powerful brain-chemicals that energize your spirits and make you feel good and happy. Lastly, exercise can be the perfect distraction from the cycle of negative thoughts that can make depression worse.
7. Natural Anti-Anxiety Treatment
Exercise is a natural anti-anxiety treatment. If you pay attention to your body post-workout, you’ll notice that exercise relieves stress and tension, enhances well-being through the release of endorphins, and boosts both mental and physical energy. Try not to zone out while you exercise, as paying attention and being mindful will help reduce anxiety even further
For example, while you’re running, try to notice your feet hitting the pavement, or the rhythm of your breathing. 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.
8. Higher Self-Esteem
Regular exercise is one of the best habits you can implement into your life to benefit you as a whole person; mind, body and soul. Once you start getting into shape, you’ll feel better about your body. By meeting even small exercise goals, you’ll feel a sense of achievement. When exercise becomes a regular habit, it can make you feel strong and powerful. These feelings of strength and accomplishment are an incredibly powerful combination of emotions and thoughts to help boost your self-worth.
So what are you waiting for? Have you gotten in a good sweat today?