A recent discussion with a friend of mine, who is recently getting back on track with making fitness a priority, prompted me to write about the mental health benefits of exercise. You see, my friend had been having difficulty getting back on track amidst running her business, recently giving birth to a new baby, raising her two other kids, and keeping a home together. She was worried about making time to workout, what if her body didn’t respond to exercise the way it once did b.b. (before babies), etc.
As her friend, it was hard for me to watch her struggle…she has been stressed out and a little down lately, and I know from my own experience that, regardless of the physical benefits that she’d reap from regular sweat sessions, exercising would really boost her mood and be a great stress outlet.
Many of you already know about the mental health benefits of working out, but with society cramming images of perfect bodies down our throats, it’s easy to focus solely on the physical/aesthetic benefits. So, as a reminder, here are a few ways exercise can improve your mood:
1. Reduce Stress
One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. When we work up a sweat, our body increases its concentration of norepinephrine, a chemical that can decrease the brain’s response to stress.
2. Increase Happiness
In addition to releasing chemicals that help us deal with stress, exercise also releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among those who are clinically depressed. In some cases, exercise can even be as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression. And it doesn’t have to be pumping iron or sprinting on the treadmill at a gym…go for a walk, a hike, rollerskating, etc for just 30 minutes a few times a week and you can instantly boost overall mood.
3. Relieve Anxiety
You might be surprised to know that a 20 minute jog is actually better at alleviating anxiety than a warm bubble bath. During (and after!) a sweat sesh, the brain releases chemicals that help us calm down, and doing moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise (interval training, anyone?) can reduce anxiety sensitivity.
4. Boost Brainpower
This one is awesome…Several studies on both mice and humans have shown that cardiovascular exercise can stimulate the creation of new brain cells (for my science geeks, this is known as neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance. Research also suggests that higher intensity workouts increase levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking and learning.
5. Sharpen Memory
Regular physical activity boosts memory and our ability to learn new things. Getting sweaty increases production of cells in the hippocampus—the part of our brain which is responsible for memory and learning.
I talked to my friend about some of these and she finally just bit the bullet and hit the gym for the first time in a while…and she said she felt immediate results. She told me she felt less stressed, more in-control, and her overall mood was just better. Hooray!
Give it a try and see for yourself! The proof is in the pudding 🙂
Ciao for now!