By Sophia Breene
Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health, build muscle, and of course, get a rockin’ bod, but working out has above-the-neck benefits, too. For the past decade or so, scientists have pondered how exercising can boost brain function. Regardless of age or fitness level (yup, this includes everyone from mall-walkers to marathoners), studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits. Get inspired to exercise by reading up on these unexpected ways that working out can benefit mental health, relationships and lead to a healthier and happier life overall.
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1. Reduce Stress
Rough day at the office? Take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain's response to stress. So go ahead and get sweaty -- working out can reduce stress and boost the body's ability to deal with existing mental tension. Win-win!
2. Boost Happy Chemicals
Slogging through a few miles on the ‘mill can be tough, but it's worth the effort! Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, docs recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression. Don't worry if you're not exactly the gym rat type -- getting a happy buzz from working out for just 30 minutes a few times a week can instantly boost overall mood.
3. Improve Self-Confidence
Hop on the treadmill to look (and more importantly, feel) like a million bucks. On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Regardless of weight, size, gender or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person's perception of his or her attractiveness, that is, self-worth. How's that for feeling the (self) love?
4. Enjoy The Great Outdoors
For an extra boost of self-love, take that workout outside. Exercising in the great outdoors can increase self-esteem even more. Find an outdoor workout that fits your style, whether it's rock-climbing, hiking, renting a canoe or just taking a jog in the park. Plus, all that Vitamin D acquired from soaking up the sun (while wearing sunscreen, of course!) can lessen the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms. Why book a spa day when a little fresh air and sunshine (and exercise) can work wonders for self-confidence and happiness?
5. Prevent Cognitive Decline
It's unpleasant, but it's true -- as we get older, our brains get a little... hazy. As aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's kill off brain cells, the noggin actually shrinks, losing many important brain functions in the process. While exercise and a healthy diet can’t “cure” Alzheimer's, they can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins after age 45 Working out, especially between age 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.
6. Alleviate Anxiety
Quick Q&A: Which is better at relieving anxiety -- a warm bubble bath or a 20-minute jog? You might be surprised at the answer. The warm and fuzzy chemicals that are released during and after exercise can help people with anxiety disorders calm down. Hopping on the track or treadmill for some moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise (intervals, anyone?) can reduce anxiety sensitivity. And we thought intervals were just a good way to burn calories!
7. Boost Brainpower
Those buff lab rats might be smarter than we think. Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance. Ready to apply for a Nobel Prize? Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking and learning. Smarty (spandex) pants, indeed.
8. Sharpen Memory
Get ready to win big at Go Fish. Regular physical activity boosts memory and ability to learn new things. Getting sweaty increases production of cells in hippocampus responsible for memory and learning. For this reason, research has linked children's brain development with level of physical fitness (take that, recess haters!). But exercise-based brainpower isn't just for kids. Even if it's not as fun as a game of Red Rover, working out can boost memory among grown-ups, too. A study showed that running sprints improved vocabulary retention among healthy adults.
9. Help Control Addiction
The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, be that exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol or food. Unfortunately, some people become addicted to dopamine and dependent on the substances that produce it, like drugs or alcohol (and more rarely, food and sex). On the bright side, exercise can help in addiction recovery. Short exercise sessions can also effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts, making them de-prioritize cravings (at least in the short term). Working out when on the wagon has other benefits, too. Alcohol abuse disrupts many body processes, including circadian rhythms. As a result, alcoholics find they can't fall asleep (or stay asleep) without drinking. Exercise can help reboot the body clock, helping people hit the hay at the right time.
10. Increase Relaxation
Ever hit the hay after a long run or weight session at the gym? For some, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping pill, even for people with insomnia. Moving around five to six hours before bedtime raises the body's core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it's time to sleep.
11. Get More Done
Feeling uninspired in the cubicle? The solution might be just a short walk or jog away. Research shows that workers who take time for exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their more sedentary peers. While busy schedules can make it tough to squeeze in a gym session in the middle of the day, some experts believe that midday is the ideal time for a workout due to the body's circadian rhythms.
12. Tap Into Creativity
Most people end a tough workout with a hot shower, but maybe we should be breaking out the colored pencils instead. A heart-pumping gym session can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards. Supercharge post-workout inspiration by exercising outdoors and interacting with nature (see benefit #4). Next time you need a burst of creative thinking, hit the trails for a long walk or run to refresh the body and the brain at the same time.
13. Inspire Others
Whether it's a pick-up game of soccer, a group class at the gym, or just a run with a friend, exercise rarely happens in a bubble. And that's good news for all of us. Studies show that most people perform better on aerobic tests when paired up with a workout buddy. Pin it to inspiration or good old-fashioned competition, nobody wants to let the other person down. In fact, being part of a team is so powerful that it can actually raise athletes’ tolerances for pain. Even fitness beginners can inspire each other to push harder during a sweat session, so find a workout buddy and get moving!
Working out can have positive effects far beyond the gym (and beach season). Gaining self-confidence, getting out of a funk, and even thinking smarter are some of the motivations to take time for exercise on a regular basis.
What inspires you to stay fit? Tell us in the comments below.
Numerous studies show that people who exercise live longer, have healthier bodies, and are in a more positive psychological state than those who don’t.
Exercise may offer substantial potential alone or as an adjunct in improving the mental well being of many individuals. There are five important benefits that are associated with the potential use of exercise in such a role. First, exercise is cheap. Second, exercise carries negligible deleterious side effects. Third, exercise can be self-sustaining in that the individual can maintain it once the basic skills have been learnt. In some countries, the evidence for exercise and mental health has already been accepted and formalized into delivery systems. In Belgium, for instance, psychomotor therapy to treat depression and anxiety is now established in the health system.
For the vast majority of the public who are the likely targets of exercise -based interventions in health care, the positive relationships seem to hold firm, particularly with increasing age. Those who are involved in sport or exercise generally have a higher level of physical self-perceptions, including physical self-worth and body image and there is a tendency for them also to have higher self-esteem than their age-group peers.
Exercise is an excellent aid in managing depression. Even though exercise is often prescribed as a form of stress management today, it is clear that too much exercise can be detrimental. A moderate amount of exercise usually energizes you. Intense and extended exercise does not increase energy, at least not right afterwards. It uses up your energy and leaves you feeling exhausted. An example of excessive exercise comes from the overtraining of athletes, which can result not only in various physical disabilities but in pervasive fatigue and mood disorders. Being able to decide what is enough exercise, not too little or too much, is a key to coping with stress. What is appropriate is specific to you and depends on your goals and energy level.
The fact that physical activity creates feelings of pleasure makes sense when you realize that energy increases with exercise, especially moderate exercise. Energy feels good, and exercise is one of the most reliable producers of this pleasurable feeling. Exercise is also pleasurable because it reduces tension and anxiety. Enjoyable exercise experiences help you feel better about yourself in many different ways. Being fit contributes to your emotional wellness and ability to cope with stress. It also increases your mental vitality as well as your physical stamina to better meet life’s challenges.
Negative moods usually involve low energy, or too much tension for the energy available. When your energy is low, you are too tired to exercise. It doesn’t matter that exercise will relieve your tiredness and ultimately give you more energy.It is sometimes necessary to make the cognitive connection between exercise and elevated mood in order to motivate yourself to begin exercising. Still another way that exercise yields pleasure, but that most people do not think about, has to do with stress management. If we can control the negative effects of stress, we will feel pleasure. A sizable scientific literature shows that exercise seems to inoculate us against stress.
Even a moderate amount of physical activity, such as a daily dose of 30 minutes of brisk walking or 15 minutes of running, will help keep you well. More vigorous pursuits (including both endurance and strength-enhancing endeavors) result in greater health benefits. From the majority of studies that have been done on exercise and self-esteem, it appears that people rate themselves more positively when they exercise. Related to self-esteem is something called self-efficacy, or the belief that you can be successful at any particular task. Exercise strengthens self-efficacy, especially in relation to physical capabilities. Psychological well-being is still another characteristic that is strengthened by exercise…
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