Exercise benefits the human body beyond the physical. In fact, regular exercise can have a profound positive impact on one's mental health. Studies suggest that exercise relieves stress, improves memory, improves sleeping patterns, and boosts overall mood. It even alleviates serious mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and more. Regular exercise does not necessarily mean putting in two hours at the gym a day, though. A modest amount of exercise can make a huge difference. People can empower themselves by exercising just a little bit regardless of their age and fitness level.
Physical exercise has a reputation for improving physical health, trimming waistlines, improving sex drives, and even adding years to the average lifespan. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone exercises to improve their overall health. They also do it because it makes them feel better. People who exercise regularly tend to feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep more soundly, and have sharper memories. They also feel more relaxed and positive about themselves. Nothing is better for your overall health than a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Studies indicate that regular exercise may treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as any antidepressant medication on the market. It also does this without negative side-effects. Research also shows that maintaining an exercise regimen can prevent people from relapsing into another depressive episode. Exercise fights depression at the core of mental function: the brain. When a person regularly exercises, it causes changes in the brain that affect neural growth and pathways that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases powerful chemicals in the brain called endorphins, which energize the body and release stress. Exercise also serves as a distraction from everyday problems, which allows time to break free from negative thinking that feeds depression.
Exercise has also earned a reputation for helping people with anxiety. Exercise fights anxiety by releasing endorphins, which relieve tension and stress. People who start moving around will start to feel the benefits immediately. However, it helps to stay focused when exercising to stay on track for meeting fitness goals. Staying focused also helps by adding mindfulness to the equation, which really helps with alleviating worrisome thoughts from one's mind.
Exercising may also help to reduce the symptoms of more severe mental disorders, such as ADHD and PTSD. People who regularly exercise experience an improvement in concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Why? Physical activity boosts the brain's production of dopamine, nor-epinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals all affect one's ability to concentrate. In this way, exercise works the same way as ADHD medications. Exercise also helps PTSD sufferers escape the rut they get "stuck" in by focusing solely on the movements of the physical activity they participate in. This helps bring the mind away from traumatic experiences and into the moment.
People who regularly exercise can also experience other mental and emotional benefits, such as sharper memory and thinking, higher self-esteem, and stronger resilience. The same endorphins that help decrease depression and anxiety also help increase one's ability to feel mentally sharp for various tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates growth of new brain cells, which helps reduce mental fog that tends to increase with age. Exercise helps increase one's well-being, which can contribute to higher self-esteem, especially when working out leads to a fitter, trimmer physique. Exercise makes you feel strong and powerful. It also provides a sense of achievement. This helps when someone has to cope with emotional challenges in life. When presented with these challenges, exercise can help alleviate stress without resorting to negative influences such as drugs and alcohol.
People can feel the mental benefits of exercise without going to the gym. In fact, exercising should become part of a daily routine around the home, at work and on the go, with the family, or just for fun. Try cleaning the house, tending to the yard, washing the car, mowing the lawn, and sweeping the sidewalk to help increase your physical activity at home. Every step counts, especially while at work or on the go. Try biking or walking to nearby appointments, using the stairs instead of elevator, or taking a vigorous walk on coffee or lunch breaks. All of these activities will help to increase your overall well-being. While with the family, choose outings that involve physical activity, such as neighborhood bike rides or soccer practice. Make sure to choose activities that are fun, whether that means going to the beach for a swim, hiking in the woods, or taking a martial arts or Zumba class. Get moving: It will pay off in the end.
Follow these links to learn more about the effects of fitness on your mind:
- The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
- Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills
- Exercise: Benefits of Regular Physical Activity
- Physical Activity Reduces Stress
- How Exercise Helps Symptoms of PTSD (PDF)
- Studies About the Effects of Exercise on the Brain
- Exercise and the Mind: Physical Fitness Can Help Improve Your Life and Probably Even Your Grades
- Study: Exercise Has Long-Lasting Effect on Depression
- Depression and Exercise (PDF)
- Regular Exercise Reduces Patient Anxiety by 20 Percent, Study Finds
- The Influence of Exercise on Mental Health (PDF)
- Exercise Before School May Help Reduce Symptoms in Kids
- Exercise Helps Children With ADHD in Study (PDF)
- Battling PTSD With Exercise
- How Exercise Could Lead to a Better Brain