Whether you’re trying to lose a couple of pounds, improve your level of fitness, or tone up your physique, you’re definitely aware of the need for a decent exercise regime in order to achieve your goal.
But did you know that exercise has a lot of great benefits for your mind as well?
While it’s easy to understand the reasoning behind exercise being able to improve your physical health, the positive results on the mental side of things are not as obvious, but just as real.
16 Ways Exercise Makes you a Happier Person
It Releases Endorphins into your Brain
Endorphins are a potent chemical that – when released into the brain – create a feeling of pleasure and make you generally feel happier. The release of endorphins can be prompted by a variety of actions, such as the taking of anti-depression medication or having sex.
Exercise can be even more effective at making you feel happier through the release of pleasure chemicals into the brain, both during exercise and continuing afterward. As you give your body a workout, you can improve your mind by creating a deep feeling of satisfaction that will make you feel content and put you in a good mood.
It Reduces Anxiety & Depression
It’s become clear that [exercise] is a good intervention, particularly for mild to moderate depression. [source]
Jasper Smits Psychologist, Southern Methodist University
Feeling anxious or depressed cannot be said to be a good prelude to exercise, however, the benefits make the effort worthwhile. By considering the outcome and being aware that anxiety and depression can be improved without the need for medication, you can become motivated to begin and regular exercise in order to continually achieve the benefit of an increased level of endorphins that can help to alleviate anxiety and depression.
The effect can be powerful enough to mimic anti-depressants and negate the need for any medication. Starting with only one thirty-minute exercise session a week is sufficient to have a positive effect.
It Gives you More Energy
If you’re physically inactive and fatigued, being just a bit more active will help. [source]
Patrick O’Connor Ph.D.
Regardless of the type of activity being undertaken on any given day – whether strolling to the corner shop or taking part in some sporting activity – the heart rate and muscles will play an essential part in enabling you to undertake these tasks.
Exercise increases your heart rate and the blood flow (and accordingly the oxygen) to the muscles, which is necessary to keep the heart and muscles working as they should. Though it seems illogical, the process of physical exercise will result in you feeling more energetic. Try doing a 10-20 minute workout soon after waking in the morning to set yourself up for a productive day.
It Reduces Stress
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are hormones that fight stress. [source]
Frank Lupin MS, ATC, PES
The trials and tribulations of everyday life can result in varying degrees of stress that can have a damaging effect on the body and mind. Undertaking exercise serves to reduce stress on a number of different levels. The process of focusing on an exercise routine and completing it correctly can help alleviate trivial worries in the short term.
To achieve longer-term benefits, the process of putting your body through the physical exertion of exercise will force it to deal with a different type of stress. Though this will only be a minor amount, it will be sufficient to create chemical changes in the body that will make stress easier to handle in the future.
It Slows Down Cognitive Decline
Unfortunately, as all of us get older, we suffer from a decline in brain function that can manifest in a number of different ways. Examples of this degeneration can range from minor memory loss to serious degenerative illness like Alzheimer’s as the ability of the brain cells to reduce as they get smaller.
The process of exercising helps to increase the chemicals in the brain that lessen the weakening of the brain cells, help to maintain effective brain function, and reduce the risk of developing a degenerative brain illness. Even a small amount of exercise every week will prove beneficial in reducing cognitive decline.
It Increases Confidence
Just by getting up and doing something aerobic, they were changing how they felt about themselves.
Dr. Karen Petty
For many, the main reason to exercise is to improve their health and alter their physique. This achievement alone is enough to increase the confidence of many people, however, this is not the only way that exercise leads to a boost in confidence.
Simply taking that first step in beginning a new exercise regime will create heightened confidence, which is a feeling that will only increase as your ability improves. Imagine first getting onto a treadmill and running for ten minutes before feeling as though your lungs might burst, but then gradually working harder until you can run for thirty minutes. That accomplishment will make you feel good.
It Makes you More Social
Though it is possible to exercise alone, the ability to work out with other people can prove to be a great motivation. Not only can working out with others be enough to encourage you to start the exercise regime, but it will also make it easier to stick to and continue to your goal.
The social aspect of exercising with one or more other people will create a camaraderie that makes exercise easier, whether as a result of friendly competition or the support of a friend-in-exercise who understands what you are trying to achieve. Meeting up with a group of friends in order to exercise can make it easier.
It Helps you Sleep Better
We have promising results showing aerobic exercise is a simple strategy to help people sleep better and feel more vigorous. [source]
Phyllis Zee, MD
By exercising at the right time of day, you can help to ensure that you will be able to get a good night’s sleep. Even those who suffer from insomnia are likely to find that their ability to sleep is improved as a result of regular bouts of exercise.
In order to achieve this benefit, it is best to make sure that you complete your exercise session at least six hours before your scheduled bedtime. This will ensure that adrenaline has the chance to dissipate and the body temperature reduces back to normal, which aids restful sleep.
It Increases your Creativity
When a little creativity is needed for work or play, you should put on your sneakers and undertake your favorite form of exercise. Physical exertion not only benefits the body but also the mind as it gives the brain a chance to focus on something other than the necessary task, which can help to trigger creativity.
Further, taking the opportunity to exercise in a new location, such as the park you only ever drive past or those hills at the edge of town that is perfect for hiking, can be a great source of inspiration. Refresh your mind in a new environment.
It Increases your Productivity
Related to both the increase in energy and creativity, exercise can improve your level of productivity. To test this theory, try a simple experiment: for one week, make the effort to exercise before you go about your daily business – at least ten minutes of cardiovascular exercise that makes your heart beat faster.
For the next week, refrain from doing any form of exercise. Over both weeks, take note of the amount of work you complete, your ability to concentrate, and whether you suffer that mid-afternoon slump that makes you want to reach for candy or caffeine. Compare each week and determine which is best.
It Improves your Memory
Cardiovascular health is more important than any other single factor in preserving and improving learning and memory. [source]
Thomas Crook Ph.D.
There are several parts of the brain that deal with our ability to remember things, including the hippocampus. The cells in this part of the brain are improved with exercise, allowing new brain cells to develop that make it easier to store long-term memories.
Regular exercise ensures that you will be able to maintain good long-term memory and even helps the brain to make the connections necessary to be able to learn new things. Ensuring you undertake regular exercise before specific tasks, such as examinations, will prove useful in helping you to remember what you have learned.
It Makes you More Relaxed
You would be forgiven for thinking that using exercise to relax did not seem like the most sensible option, maybe believing that a glass of wine or a warm bath to be more beneficial. However, you would be mistaken.
After a long day at work, compare your ability to turn your brain off or the time it takes you to fall asleep both when you have and have not exercised and note the difference. Feeding your brain and body with endorphins and oxygen respectively creates the perfect scenario to enable you to relax later when necessary.
It Gives you Better Coping Skills
Related to the reduction in anxiety and stress that exercise can offer, a regular workout can also make it easier to cope with situations that would usually result in negative emotions, such as panic or anger.
The minor amount of stress that you subject your mind and body to while exercising is actually a good thing; it aids your ability to cope when negative stress arises as your body learns to cope with it during exercise. With a regular workout, this ability to cope with problems can prove to be a long-term benefit.
It Helps you Keep Addiction Under Control
The reason why some people become addicted to a certain substance, such as tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs, is that they will usually stimulate the pleasure center of the brain to a powerful extent by flooding it with dopamine.
The body and mind can begin to crave this potent pleasurable feeling, which makes people repeatedly seek it by taking more and more of the relevant substance. Fortunately, exercise can offer the same feeling of pleasure by flooding the brain with the chemical that creates pleasure without any of the negative effects that come with illicit or damaging substances.
It Allows you to Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Try to determine the percentage of time you spend outside; maybe you go from your home to your car before driving to work or walk to the bus stop or subway, perhaps you leave your workplace to obtain lunch to eat at your desk. For many people, the average day involves going from one building to another with the only time spent outside being the time it takes to get from one place to another. Take the time to exercise in a park and take in some fresh air, power walk, jog or run around your neighborhood to discover aspects you have never noticed before, or hike up that hill and take in the view.
It Increases your Brainpower
Exercise improves attention, memory, accuracy, and how quickly you process information, all of which help you make smarter decisions. [source]
Charles H. Hillman Ph.D.
When you are keen to improve your mental ability, you should start by taking part in regular exercise as this helps new brain cells to develop. Regular exercise works to help the brain make the connections necessary to make it easier to learn new things, make it easier to reach decisions, and generally improve the ability of the workings of the brain.
While logic dictates that education will increase brainpower, by maintaining a regular exercise regime, the information obtained through the study will be easier to retain and recall when necessary. Make sure you hit the gym before hitting the books.
It almost seems too good to be true that something as simple as regular exercise can offer so many benefits…but it’s true. With a wide range of ways to exercise, it need not be a chore and can actually be enjoyable.
Some may consider going to the gym to be boring, but you do not need to limit yourself to this manner of exercise. Put on some music and dance as if no one is watching, hike up a hill and take in your surroundings or develop your skills in a martial arts class.
Think of all the good you are doing for your body and mind and be proud of yourself, which will make you feel even better.