Most of us are familiar with the physical benefits of exercise; more muscle, less fat, clearer skin, etc. We also know that exercise is beneficial in preventing numerous health conditions and increasing our life span. Whether you love it or hate it, you know that exercise does you some good. What you might not know is that exercise does more than just help you fit into your skinny jeans, it’s also good for your mental health. If you want to know why, keep reading to learn the 15 mental health benefits of exercise.
1. Reduce Anxiety and Stress
We all get stressed or anxious every once in a while, some of us more than others. The stressors of daily life like work, school, and relationships can lead to sleepless nights and terrible tension headaches. The incessant worrying or fear of what may happen in the future can affect us both emotionally and physically. Exercise helps to reduce our feelings of stress and anxiety by taking us out of the moment. Simply walking, running, or doing any form of moderate exercise is enough to get our blood pumping and the endorphins flowing. Endorphins are chemicals our bodies produce to help us deal with stress. Known as the “feel good chemicals” because they, well, make us feel good. Getting more of these “feel good” chemicals flowing through our system will take the worry away, even if just temporarily, and help us handle our problems with a clear mind.
2. Helps Reduce Depression
Depression can affect anyone and can be chronic or temporary. If you are feeling depressed, regular exercise may be what you need to help you out of your rut. Beyond releasing endorphins that naturally act as a stress and pain reliever, exercise helps with depression by acting as an escape. When you exercise, your mind is focused on the task at hand. Whether it be running or weight lifting, you’re forced to think about what you are doing and not what is making you feel sad. Additionally, exercise can help to solve some of the problems that may be contributing to your depression. With a regular exercise routine you are working towards a goal, which gives you something to look forward to. It can also help to improve your body composition which may help improve your self image. It’s also a great way to let off some steam when you are upset about something.
3. Increases Confidence
Sticking to a regular workout routine takes focus and discipline. Not everyone can do it. That’s why when you complete a workout program, it feels like such an accomplishment. It’s a great feeling to have that can be carried over into other aspects of your life. Whether your goal was to lose weight, build muscle, or simply make yourself get to the gym on a regular basis, it was hard work. But now that you know you are capable of doing hard work at the gym, what else are you capable of? Plus, making healthy changes to our body both looks and feels good. While exercise isn’t just about looking great in a swimsuit, it doesn’t hurt when you do.
4. Increases Social Interaction
While exercise is something you can do alone, it’s also fun to do as a group. For many people, social interaction is hard to come by. Maybe you work from home and don’t have an opportunity to meet friends in a traditional way. In that case, signing up for an exercise class or running group is a great excuse to meet people. Humans crave social interaction, in fact we need it. Exercise is a great way to catch up with friends while burning calories and improving your health.
5. Increases Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of yourself in the present. Being mindful means observing your thoughts and how they affect your emotions, then using this awareness to better control your actions. Most people lead their lives based on emotion, never taking the time to observe their thought patterns. Exercise can increase your mindfulness by forcing you to be more present when concentrating on the task at hand. Certain exercise practices like Yoga are designed to increase your awareness. Yoga teaches you to quiet your mind and pay attention only to your breathing as it relates to your body. By being more mindful you may reduce your levels of stress, depression, and anxiety.
6. May Improve ADHD
Exercise may help to reduce symptoms of ADHD by improving concentration, memory, motivation, and mood. This is because physical activity helps to boost the brain’s serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine levels. All of which have an effect on focus and attention. It can also help to improve impulse control and reduce compulsive behavior.
7. May Help With PTSD
Physical exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of PTSD by moving your nervous system out of the immobilization stress response that accompanies PTSD. By focusing on how your body feels during exercise and being present in its movements you can learn to take back control of your body and mind. Exercises that involve movement in both your arms and legs could be most beneficial. These could include walking, running, dancing, weight training, or swimming.
8. Decrease Panic Attacks
Engaging in regular exercise has shown to reduce panic attacks in those with panic disorder. Working out helps to release tension and feelings of fear or worry that can contribute to panic attacks. It may also help to decrease the intensity and frequency of panic attacks in some people.
9. Improve Mood
If you’ve ever felt that post-workout high, you’re already familiar with the mood lifting effects of exercise. This is because exercise releases endorphins and increases our serotonin levels, both of which are responsible for making us feel good. Plus, it helps to clear our mind, relieve stress, and improve our sleep. All of which can contribute to our mood.
10. Improves Sleep
Improved sleep should be an obvious benefit of exercise. Working out is physically demanding and makes us more tired when it’s time for sleep. Plus, it can help to ease other mental health symptoms that may be contributing to our inability to sleep like stress, depression, or anxiety.
11. Increases Self Discipline
Once you master yourself, you can master the world. Sticking to a regular workout program can be incredibly difficult, especially with all of our modern daily obligations. It’s tough to put on your running shoes after a long day at work and hit the running trail. Sleeping or relaxing in front of the television would be much easier. However, when you’re focused on a goal (like running a marathon or losing weight), you don’t have the option of not running. Exercise can increase your self discipline, which can be carried over to your other goals.
12. Improve Memory
Exercise helps to improve memory inadvertently by improving sleep, reducing stress, and improving mood. This is due to the endorphins and neurotransmitters released during exercise that helps with focus and attention. It can also help with the growth of new brain cells that can prevent age-related brain deterioration.
13. Stronger Resilience
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. Exercise helps build resilience by becoming a way for us to cope instead of resorting to destructive behaviors like alcohol or drugs. While those options may seem to help short term, they ultimately make our problems worse. Exercise makes you a stronger person both physically and mentally.
14. Increased Energy
Though more of a physical benefit than mental, increased energy can affect us mentally as well. When we have more energy for our daily lives, we’re more productive. This in turn improves our mood and reduces the stress of not finishing our tasks in time. Exercise increases our energy by increasing our blood flow and bringing more oxygen to our cells and organs.
15. Helps Us Stay On Track Of Goals
Sticking to a workout program requires discipline and setting a course for structuring our days around our workouts. This kind of attitude towards our workout program can translate over towards our other goals. Having one area in our life that we are disciplined in, helps us set a course for accomplishing our other goals. Once we know how to accomplish one, we can use that same structure to accomplish others.