Many people go to the gym or fitness classes to build muscle and to strengthen their heart and lungs with a focus on preventive health for their whole body. But, many people don’t recognize the incredible impact exercise has on our mental health as well! Exercise is well known to have great mental health benefits, improve relationships, and even contribute to a happier life.
Here are just a few of the benefits to regular physical activity.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, a chemical that triggers a euphoric feeling in the body. These “happy chemicals” interact with receptors in your brain that act as analgesics and a sedative likeness, reducing the perception of pain. Studies show that a regular exercise regime can significantly alleviate one’s symptoms of clinical depression or anxiety. You don’t have to carve out hours slogging away on the treadmill either – working out for 30 minutes a few times every week is effective!
Exercise can have a profound impact on one’s stress levels. Whether you exercise before, during or after a workday, physical activity increases the body’s concentration of norepinephrine, which is a chemical that has been discovered to moderate the brain’s stress response power.
“Regular exercise makes your heart and bones stronger, lowers your risk for chronic disease right along with your blood pressure, keeps your weight under control and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. While you’re boosting your energy levels, oxygen capacity, muscle tone and general fitness, a side benefit is an increase in self-esteem”.
Basically, regular exercise boosts self-esteem and positive self-confidence, because physical activity makes us feel better about ourselves, as we feel stronger and healthier.
Connect with nature
For those who exercise outdoors (when seasonally applicable), there is an undeniable added benefit of feeling connected with nature and one’s surroundings! There are so many ways to exercise in the great outdoors – choose an activity that you love! Some ideas include running, cycling, canoeing, rock climbing, hiking, stand-up paddle boarding, climbing stairs, or a quick full-body cardio and muscle-building routine at the soccer field!
And a big bonus: “all that Vitamin D acquired from soaking up the sun (while wearing sunscreen, of course!) can lessen the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms”.
For those who choose group exercise, there are added benefits to achieving goals together with others. One of these is positive social interaction with like-minded individuals. And pushing yourself and demonstrating a commitment to a regular fitness regime, also inspires others.
A bestselling book entitled “Brain Rules” by John Medina dives in-depth into the role exercise has on boosting brainpower. Through his research, Medina discovered that being in motion creates the optimal environment for processing information. Through aerobic exercise, cognitive functions improve, and along with this comes improved memory as well. Studies have found that an increase in oxygen comes with an improvement in mental sharpness!
There is something out there for everyone – find activities that motivate you, and that you enjoy, and with a few days of fitness every week, you too will reap the benefits of exercise!
 Benna Crawford. How Does Exercise Affect Your Self-Esteem? June 5, 2015. http://www.livestrong.com/article/438937-how-does-exercise-affect-your-self-esteem/
 Sophia Breene, 13 Unexpected Benefits of Exercise. 7 October 2013. https://greatist.com/fitness/13-awesome-mental-health-benefits-exercise
 Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. John Medina. Pear Press, 2010.