You already know that exercise has numerous benefits for your body. Even 30 minutes a day of moderate activity can drastically reduce your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, and certain cancers.
But physical fitness has an incredible impact on your mental health, too. Here are five ways fitness and mental health rely on one another.
We’ve all been there after a great workout: you’re feeling elated, like you can take on the world (or at least take on your daily to-do list). Those feelings of euphoria and joy are due to chemicals in your brain that are released by physical activity.
When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, chemicals that cause a “feel-good” sensation, reduce stress, and lessen the effects of physical pain. Plus, your daily workout also stimulates the release of the other mood-boosting chemicals serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Together, these chemicals will dramatically boost your mood, decrease your stress, and even help regulate your sleep.
Let’s start by stating an important fact here: exercise cannot cure serious depression or generalized anxiety disorder. These are serious mood disorders caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and therefore often require medical treatment.
However, for many patients with these disorders, exercise can greatly reduce their symptoms. And for people experiencing mild depression that doesn’t require medication, exercise may be the only help they need.
That’s because exercise causes the brain to release more of the “big three” feel-good chemicals. In some ways, it even mimics the effects of depression and anxiety medications. Plus, focusing on physical activity can take your mind off of whatever is making you feel sad or anxious.
Along with giving you an immediate “high” and helping you overcome more long-term mood struggles, regular exercise also boosts your self-esteem. As humans, we tend to focus intently on physical appearance. We judge ourselves harshly.
When you’re not happy with your physical appearance, it’s easy to slip into negative self-talk. However, the more you exercise, the prouder you’ll feel of yourself, your abilities, and your accomplishments. Fitness and mental health feed off of one another. The better your fitness, the better your mental health.
Our brain function naturally declines as we age, making cognitive functions and memory more difficult. However, studies show that regular aerobic exercise can not only combat these negative changes, but can actually increase your brain’s functionality.
Physical fitness can slow the onset of dementia and other cognitive diseases in aging populations. But younger populations enjoy exercise’s brain-boosting benefits, too.
Speaking of focus, have you ever felt mentally foggy? Physical activity could be the answer. Aerobic activity increases blood flow, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to your brain. Like all your organs, the brain functions best when it has ample oxygen.
In addition, physical activity activates your neurons, “waking them up” in a sense and letting them know it’s time to be on guard. Even hours after your workout, your brain is still sharp and working at peak performance.
The next time you feel like sitting out a workout, remember your mind. Exercise isn’t just good for your body. Your brain will thank you, too.
Until next time, take care of yourself and one another.