The Mental Health Benefits of exercise
We all know that regular exercising has a plethora of benefits for the body. Moving your body regularly can slim the waistline, improve posture, build bone density, improve aerobic capacity, build muscle and so much more. However, the MOST important and LEAST spoken about benefit is how exercise can improve your mental health.
What are the mental health benefits of exercise?
Regardless of your age or fitness level, when you pound the pavement running or hit the gym, the benefits above-the-neck are absolutely life changing. In my opinion, they should be the main focus. People whom exercise regularly sleep better at night, have more energy throughout the day, have less stress, sharper memories, are able to focus more, with an overall sense of well being.
Exercise and Depression
When most sedentary people feel depressed, they march into the doctor’s office and ask for a pill to make them feel better-mentally. Anti-depressants are not the only cure for depression. First of all, a huge majority of depression is situationally dependant, and second of all-what about exercise? Research has shown that exercise is also an effective treatment. “For some people it works as well as anti-depressants, although exercise alone isn’t enough for someone with severe depression,” says Dr. -Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Exercise promotes neural growth, reduced inflammation as well as new activity patterns that promotes a feeling of calmness and well-being. You have probably heard of the word “endorphins” before, these are powerful chemicals that your brain releases while exercising. Endorphins can boost your mood, lift your spirits, energize your body and make you feel good all over! That euphoric feeling, or “runner’s high” is the real deal, take advantage of that gift we receive when exercising and move your body!
Exercise can also serve as a way to clear your mind, similar to a meditation. It seems to most people, that when exercising, your worries start to melt away and your mind becomes clear for awhile. This will help break a cycle of negative thoughts that can lead to depression. Studies show that 1 in every 10 people are “depressed”, imagine more of those people exercised? Exercise-a mental health prescription for the win!
Exercise and Stress
Pay attention to how your body physically responds to stress. Do you have a tightness in your chest? Stiffness in your muscles? Headaches, neck and back pain? Stomach ache and digestive issues? How are you sleeping when you are under stress? Even the word “stress” can make us feel the physical symptoms of stress!
Guess what? Another amazing mental health benefit of exercise is that it is a fantastic way to alleviate stress. Moving your body will help ease the tightness you are currently feeling, It will relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Plus, our best friends- the “Endorphins” will come and play- helping to melt our worries away.
Exercise and Exhaustion
You may think that when you your body is feeling exhausted due to emotional stress, that exercising will make it worse. Well, think again. Studies show that regular exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels. When you are feeling the paralyzing symptoms of being overwhelmed, stop what you are doing, lace up your running shoes and get outside.
Exercise and Anxiety
Another amazing mental health benefit of exercising is how it can help with anxiety. A great prescription for this is to practice mindful exercise. Feel the sensations of the air on your skin, how your feet feel in your running shoes, how your body is thanking you for getting out and moving. Listen to your breathing, feel your heart calm down and be at ease. If you are outside, notice the sounds of the birds, the smell of the fresh oxygenated air that you are breathing in, and the sensations of the ground below you. This practise will help clear your mind of worries that lead to anxiety.
Exercise for inspiration
This is actually the main reason why I exercise. Exercising has a magnificent way of clearing the mind, causing your creative juices to flow, leading to the creation of many awesome new thoughts and ideas. As I write this, I realize that this topic should be a whole blog post in itself, so stay tuned!
When you exercise, your best friends the Endorphins come out to play. Along with them, comes your other best friends: “dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin”. The combination of all of these with a clear mind can help with focus and attention, allowing your new ideas to come in. I personally find that when I am running, I get so many more creative thoughts pouring into my brain than if I was sitting at home with a notepad and pencil!
Exercise and memory
Exercising can enhance your memory and ability to learn something new. Getting your sweat on can increase the production of new cells in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
Exercise can increase your brainpower
Forget about beefing up your muscles, exercise can beef up your brain too! When you exercise, your body produces a protein called FNDC5, which can boost your brain power and provide resilience to neurological diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease. According to an awesome article written by ScienceMag, “mice that did not produce a so-called co-activator of FNDC5 production, known as PGC-1α, were hyperactive and had tiny holes in certain parts of their brains”. This was a study done by cellular biologist Bruce Spiegelman of Harvard Medical School in Boston. How neat is that??
All of this new information will probably have you already out the door reaping the benefits of exercise. However, if you are still finding it hard to make that first step, just remember that it is ok to start small, putting one foot in front of the other and just start moving. If you are still lacking motivation due to awareness of what to do, or what exercise is best for your body, then feel free to email me at Julie@thefitgypsy.ca and I would love to help you create a plan that you will ENJOY and stick to.
With love, health and happiness,
The Fit Gypsy