One of the biggest reasons people work out is because they want to get healthier and look better. Who doesn’t love the idea of doing something that can prevent disease and help you look better at the beach? We all know that exercising is one of the best things you can do for our physical health, but did you know that it’s every bit as beneficial for your mental health?
Here is a look at 6 surprising mental health benefits of exercise.
1. Exercise helps you manage stress better
I can’t tell you that exercise will erase all your stress entirely – as nice as that would be – but exercising regularly will help you to better manage and process the stress that arises in your daily life.
When you exercise, norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates how your brain responds to stress, is released. Then, as your heart rate rises, other feel-good chemicals are also released, including endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. At the same time, physical activity can curb stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. In short, when you work out, you’re giving your body a really valuable tool in the fight against stress.
It also helps address the physical symptoms of stress, like headaches, tension, and chest tightness. If you’ve ever experienced these symptoms, you probably know that worrying about them only makes your stress even worse. Thankfully, exercise has a way of relaxing your muscles and relieving tension within the body, giving you one less thing to stress over!
2. Working out can improve your self-confidence and self-esteem
It’s not a stretch to imagine that anyone who loses weight or gets into better shape is going to feel better about themselves, but this actually goes much deeper than you might think. Completing a workout when you’d rather just stay in bed can make you feel incredibly accomplished, and the pride and discipline that comes from sticking to a consistent workout schedule over time can give your self-confidence a serious and lasting boost that carries over into other aspects of your life as well.
3. Exercise can fight depression as well as antidepressants
Endorphins that trigger feelings of happiness are released by your body when you exercise, which is why people instantly feel better after a workout or a good run. Anyone can benefit from this, not just people who suffer from depression. However, you may be surprised to learn that a 2013 study found there was no difference between the effectiveness of exercise on depression and that of antidepressants. In other words, exercise works just as well as the best solution modern science has come up with for depression, and it comes without any side effects or price tag!
4. Exercise can improve your memory
If you ever feel like your brain is a little hazy, keep in mind that those endorphins we talked about that are released when you exercise also help you concentrate and improve your mental sharpness when you’re working on tasks.
In addition, exercise stimulates new brain cell growth, and who among us couldn’t use a few more brain cells? It has also been shown to help stave off age-related memory decline.
5. Exercise can make you more emotionally resilient
Life is full of challenges, and rising to meet exercise-related challenges has a knock-on effect when it comes to how you deal with those bigger-picture challenges as well. Exercise helps us build resilience and cope with issues in a healthy way.
Did you know that on the days when people exercise, stressful situations have less of an impact on their well-being? That’s pretty impressive!
6. It can ease anxiety
Anxiety is notoriously tough to deal with because it can be difficult to “turn off” the thoughts that feed it. However, exercise has a way of relieving tension and stress and boosting energy.
The biggest benefits come from exercising mindfully. This means tuning into the sensations that surround you while you’re working out. For example, pay attention to the feeling of your feet hitting the ground while running or the wind on your skin as you walk outside. Listen to the rhythm of your breath while you do yoga and observe your surroundings. This mindfulness can stop that relentless flow of worrying that runs through your head when you’re anxious.
If you want to reap these mental health benefits, there’s no need to spend hours at the gym or push yourself to the point of exhaustion. Just half an hour of moderate exercise five times a week can get you the mental health benefits of exercise, and these sessions can be broken down into smaller periods if necessary, such as two 15-minute sessions or three 10-minute sessions.
However, even a little bit of activity is better than none, so try to commit to doing a small amount each day and then gradually add onto it. Making exercise a fun part of your daily life may just be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself!