We are all aware of the physical benefits of regular exercise – including weight loss, muscle gain, increased strength and agility, and cardiovascular endurance. But did you know that exercise can improve your mental health, as well? Regular workouts, according to experts, can be just as beneficial for your mind as they are for your body.

Let’s take a look at six unexpected ways in which exercise can boost your mental health:

1. Prevents Depression and Other Related Disorders

If you are feeling down, a quick workout can give you a burst of energy and improve your mood. When you work out, endorphins – hormones that make you feel happy and euphoric – are released in your brain, making you feel better. The positive effects of exercise on mood are even seen among people who suffer from clinical depression. Several studies have demonstrated that exercise results in increased neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity in key brain regions responsible for mood regulation. In this sense, exercise can function like an antidepressant.

2. Reduces Stress

Physical exercise is an amazing, and virtually free, stress buster. Studies show that physical activity triggers the production of norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter that helps regulate your body’s stress response.

3. Reduces Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are some of the most common psychiatric illnesses - affecting over 40 million people in the Unites States. That said, exercise can help alleviate general anxiety, as well as anxiety sensitivity, which precedes panic attacks in many people. Studies indicate that those who exercise regularly are less likely to develop anxiety disorders than those who lead sedentary lifestyles. So, the next time you feel a little anxious, hop on a treadmill and try going for a jog.

4. Delays and Prevents Cognitive Decline

Some cognitive decline is a relatively common part of aging. As you grow older, this decline may make it difficult for you to learn new things or recall information that was previously learned. These adverse cognitive effects generally result from a reduction in the amount of gray matter in the brain over time and degradation of the hippocampus – a key brain structure for learning and memory processing. However, experts suggest that one of the best ways to prevent or reduce cognitive decline is to exercise regularly. Moderate to intense physical activity done on a regular basis slows the degeneration of the hippocampus and helps you stay sharp, even with age.

5. Helps in Addiction Recovery

Research indicates that exercise can reduce an individual’s craving for cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs and decrease the negative effects of withdrawal symptoms. This is because both addictive substances and exercise generate dopamine, a “reward” neurotransmitter produced in response to pleasurable activities. Specifically, short bursts of intense exercise have been found to be particularly effective at promoting dopamine release compared to other forms of exercise.

6. Improves Self Esteem, Confidence, and Creativity

Research shows that those who work out regularly have a positive self-image and an elevated perception of self-worth and attractiveness. If you exercise regularly and stay in good shape, you feel more attractive on a subconscious level, which increases self-confidence. Studies also suggest that exercise can boost creative thinking. So, the next time you are struggling with writer’s block, just hit the gym or go for a run.

As you can see, engaging in regular exercise is one of the easiest and most effective ways to both stay in excellent physical shape and keep your mind alert and sharp, so stay active to stay healthy and happy.

 

Guest Author Bio:

Jack Fleming is a personal trainer with over 20 years of experience in the fitness industry and writes regularly for several health/exercise websites, including treadmilltalk.com.

 

References:

 Cırrık, S., & Hacioglu, G. (2016). Neurophysiological Effects of Exercise. In H. Sozen (Ed.), Fitness Medicine: Intech.

De La Garza II, R., Yoon, J. H., Thompson-Lake, D. G. Y., Haile, C. N., Eisenhofer, J. D., Newton, T. F., & Mahoney III, J. J. (2016). Treadmill Exercise Improves Fitness and Reduces Craving and Use of Cocaine in Individuals with Concurrent Cocaine and Tobacco-Use Disorder. Psychiatry Research, 245, 133-140.

Otto, M. W., Church, T. S., Craft, L. L., Greer, T. L., Smits, J. A. J., & Trivedi, M. H. (2007).

Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 9, 287-294.

Silverberg, A. B., Shah, S. D., Haymond, M. W., & Cryer, P. E. (1978). Norepinephrine: Hormone and Neurotransmitter in Man. American Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism, 234, E252-E256.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center. (n.d.). Physical Exercise - Norepinephrine. Retrieved from :

      https://www2.umc.edu/Education/Schools/Medicine/Basic_Science/Physiology_and_Biophysics/Core_Facilities(Physiology)/Physical_Exercise_-_Norepinephrine.aspx  

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