Photo by Zoran Mircetic. Be Fit / Feel Happy

The benefits of exercise aren’t limited to your physique.

Getting your heart pumping is also a great way to put your mind at ease. Exercise has been proven to improve concentration, alertness, and cognitive abilities as well as improve overall mood.

Here are six ways in which hitting the gym or fitness studio can help your mental health.

Exercise and stress

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise is quite possibly the stress-relieving method health professionals recommend the most. Ironically enough, it’s when you begin to feel too stressed to work out that you should get your body moving.

Because you are focusing on something other than problems or deadlines, the day’s worries melt away. Instead, they are replaced by optimism as your body is flooded with endorphins — a natural painkiller and the chemical responsible for that happy, almost euphoric post-workout feeling.

Exercise and anxiety

Research has shown that for some, regular exercise has the same anxiety-reducing benefits as medication. The effects of one vigorous period of exercise can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress for several hours.

Exercising can reduce the amount of cortisol and adrenaline in your body. Cortisol is a chemical released in response to fear or stress, and is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. When the body is chronically in a state of anxiety, there is no outlet for the build-up of cortisol — which makes you more anxious. Exercise helps burn that excess cortisol and replaces it with feel-good hormones instead.

Exercise and energy

Feeling tired? Take a walk, not a nap. It seems counterintuitive but by spending energy, you actually feel more energized. An analysis conducted in 2006 by the University of Georgia found overwhelming support that regular, low-intensity exercise increases energy levels and reduces fatigue.

Instead of pressing snooze in the morning, hop out of bed and go for a quick walk. Waking up and walking for 20 minutes will keep you feeling more energized and awake during the course of your day (much more than sleeping for 20 more minutes).

Exercise and sleep

The relationship between sleep and exercise is a fickle one. Contrary to popular belief, sleep has a more pronounced short-term effect on exercise, as a restless night typically leads to skipped workouts.

While exercise in itself does not immediately impact sleep, studies have shown that over longer periods of time, it does have a positive effect, increasing both the duration and quality of a good night’s rest. By regularly incorporating exercise into your daily routine, you will gradually improve the quality of your sleep. A little movement during the day will go a long way when your head hits the pillow.

Exercise and creativity

Being physically active can make your brain active too. Researchers at Stanford University found that walking boosts creative thinking. They even quantified this phenomenon: While walking, a person’s creative output is increased by an average of 60 per cent.

This is because regular exercise promotes cognitive ability, which in turn promotes creativity. Next time you feel uninspired or stuck on a project, go for a quick walk to get those creative juices flowing.

Exercise and memory

Regular exercise does more than simply change your physical appearance or reduce the chances of getting heart disease, diabetes and strokes. It changes how your brain functions as well.

In a study conducted at the University of British Columbia and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that aerobic exercise specifically appears to increase the size of the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for verbal memory and learning.

Increasing your heart rate helps increase blood flow throughout the body, including through your brain. This increase translates into an improvement in the way your cells connect with each other. In addition to increasing memory, exercise has also been shown to prevent dementia, Alzheimer’s and brain aging.


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