Seven Ways Exercise Helps Your Mental Health
It's pretty obvious that exercise is great for your physical health, helping with weight management, cardiovascular health, and blood sugar management among other benefits, but it turns out that getting your heart pumping can be great for your brain as well. Here are seven ways that exercise can do great things for your mental health.
Exercise can make you smarter. It turns out that the same hormones that make your body stronger as a result of exercise (growth hormones) also positively affect your brain leading to better function in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is associated with learning and memory. Additionally, exercise is also associated with increases in BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor), which also positively impacts memory (more on that in a bit).
Exercise can improve your pain tolerance. Whether you're managing arthritis or struggling with an achy back, your best prescription may be to get moving. A recent study demonstrated that improvements in aerobic fitness are correlated to increases in tolerating pain. While improvements in strength and circulation could be a factor, it's likely that the psychological perception of pain also changes as a result of exercise, causing pain to be perceived as more tolerable and less limiting.
Exercise can help you manage your stress. As a simple explanation, exercise is a healthy way of responding to the "fight or flight" scenario that our bodies create in response to stressful situations. By providing an outlet for the elevated cortisol and adrenal response, as well as through the creation of endorphins (commonly referred to as feel good chemicals), exercise can help you keep the negative impacts of stress on your body and brain within healthy levels.
Exercise can help you sleep better. Moderate physical exercise has been demonstrated to reduce the time that it takes to fall asleep and to improve the quality of sleep. Even single exercise sessions of moderate intensity have been demonstrated to improve sleep for that night, while the benefits increase in the long term. Just remember to avoid exercise for two hours before your bedtime in order to give your body and brain sufficient time to cool down before you turn in.
Exercise can improve your self-esteem. One of the best things about sticking to a regular exercise routine is when you begin to see improvements. Whether you find yourself able to lift more weight or bike longer and harder, those changes in performance make you feel good about what you're doing. This feeling of competence directly impacts perceptions of self-worth, making you more confident over time.
Exercise can help depression and anxiety. It just makes sense that something that improves sleep, self-esteem, stress levels, and concentration would also be good for depression and anxiety, doesn't it? Exercise can have the added benefits of increasing social support and involvement and positively impacting the dopaminergic, serotonergic, and noradrenergic systems of the body, neurochemicals that are also affected by many anti-depressant medications. If you're struggling with clinical depression or even managing a case of the blues, add in exercise to assist in better managing your symptoms.
Exercise can improve your concentration. Exercise is not only linked to increased intelligence in the long run, but it can also improve your immediate concentration. In addition to impacting BDNF described above, exercising and moving around uses more brain cells, increases circulation to all parts of your body, and results in better regulation of blood sugar and metabolism. Try scheduling "walking meetings" or lunch break workouts to keep your concentration on point through your afternoon.
While we tend to emphasize greater intensity and longer training sessions when pushing for performance and physical change in our bodies from exercise, it's important to know that the mental health benefits of exercise are attainable for everyone. Even ten minutes of exercise positively impacts aerobic fitness and blood pressure and can be effective in generating the psychological benefits described here.
Bring your exercises home and feel great on a daily basis with your very own home cardio machine.