Everyone knows that physical activity is good for the body. But did you know that exercise can also be very important for your mental well-being? In this article, you’ll discover the ten benefits of exercise on mental health.
Importance of Exercise on Mental Health
Before we tell you the benefits of exercise on mental health, it is important to understand how does exercise can help our mental health problems?
In today’s world with increasing technology, more people tend to live sedentary lifestyles. It is common for doctors and dieticians to recommend people to exercise regularly to stay physically fit and healthy.
But apart from the physical health benefits, exercising regularly also has a positive impact on our mental health and well-being (1).
One study states that exercise and physical activity can improve some symptoms of depression that are comparable to those of antidepressant treatments (2).
When we talk about training it is important to point out that a workout can look in many different ways. Some prefer to take a brisk walk, while others would rather lift scrap in the gym.
The most important thing is not really how you exercise, but you actually do it. Now, let’s look at the benefits of exercise on mental health.
Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health
1. The Release of ‘Feel-Good’ Hormones
One of the many hormones present in our bodies is endorphin, which creates feelings of happiness and excitement. This hormone is released in the body after periods of exercising. The production of these ‘feels good’ hormones have a very powerful and lasting effect on our minds and bodies.
Moreover, many studies have shown that exercise for mental health can help in reducing many symptoms of clinical depression (3).
Nowadays, many doctors also advise people who suffer from anxiety or depression to start exercising regularly.
Exercise can prove to be just as effective as antidepressants for many people.
2. Increases Brain Power
Many studies have been conducted to examine the effect of cardiovascular exercise on the brain in humans and mice (4, 5). They have shown that exercise for mental health can actually create new brain cells, known as neurogenesis.
Exercising regularly has also shown to improve brain function and mental health. Moreover, researchers have also found that working out increases the level of BDNF, a brain derives protein, in our bodies (6, 7).
This protein aids in better decision making and boosts thinking skills and the process of learning. BDNF is responsible for many of the benefits of exercise on mental health.
3. Reduces Stress Level
In today’s fast-paced and busy lifestyle, people are usually left feeling stressed after work. One would obviously then just want to leave every activity and relax.
But studies have shown that walking outside or exercising even for a short interval can prove to be quite beneficial for stress alleviation (1, 8). Researchers believe this stress alleviation is responsible for exercise’s health benefits.
When we do exercise it improves blood circulation to the brain and in turn, boosts the production of norepinephrine, which is a chemical that regulates stress and improves concentration.
And thus, exercising is a source of rejuvenation for our minds, which is very essential for our mental well-being.
4. Protects Against Aging of the Brain
As we age, not only our bodies but also our brains start to degenerate. Brain cells are destroyed, and the size of the brain also decreases.
Older people tend to forget things and can also develop Alzheimer’s disease. Exercising regularly cannot entirely halt these effects as we age but can provide some sort of protection from them (9).
This is because exercise increases levels of certain chemicals in our brains which help in preventing the degeneration of the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory.
5. Improves Memory
Our memory is important all our lives, from childhood to adulthood, and from learning spellings to recalling names.
A study has shown that there is a direct link between exercise for mental health and the brain’s ability to memorize (10).
Moreover, one such study showed that a group of people who exercised were better able to recall vocabulary (11).
6. Energizes the Mind
It may seem that exercising requires more energy which can tire you out, but studies show otherwise.
According to them, people who regularly exercise have more energy, mentally and physically, and hence get more tasks completed as compared to those people who lead a sedentary lifestyle (12, 13, 14).
7. Boosts Self-Esteem
Having self-confidence and positive self-esteem is very important for one’s mental wellbeing. Many people feel more confident when they look good.
Exercising and working out can help one stay fit and feel attractive, regardless of weight, gender, or age.
Moreover, the endorphins released when exercising also make you feel better and more confident with an increased feeling of self-worth.
Endorphins release are responsible for many of the benefits of exercise on mental health.
8. Can Help Combat Addiction
People experience addiction to various things, including drugs, gambling, chocolate, and even shopping.
Regardless of the stimulant, the process of addiction is caused because our brains release dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that makes us experience feelings of euphoria.
In the case of drugs, our brains become entirely dependent on their intake to release dopamine and feel pleasure. This makes addiction to drugs much stronger and more difficult to fight off than addiction to other things.
But studies have proven that exercise for mental health effectively helps in fighting with addiction (15, 16). This is because activity produces endorphin hormones in our bodies, which send ‘feel good’ signals to our brains.
Hence our brain receives the pleasure it seeks from exercise by producing endorphins instead of dopamine. This process helps in fighting off the cravings and addiction to the drugs.
9. Boosts Creativity in our Brains
It is quite often believed that creativity can be achieved by relaxing and pondering in a comfortable environment. But nowadays, with new research emerging, researchers would say otherwise.
Studies have shown that when a person works out, he/she experiences a period of boosted creativity for up to two hours afterward (17).
So, if you’re stuck on a problem and can’t find a solution, it is better to go off for a run than continue to sit and ponder.
10. Get your Daily Dose of Vitamin D
One can always choose an outdoor workout along with going to the gym. Outdoor activities could include swimming, jogging, hiking, or cycling. Spending time outside and connecting with nature can help reduce stress and anxiety leading to better mental health.
Moreover, by spending time outdoors in the sun, the body gets a dose of Vitamin D. This nutrient is essential for our health and overall well-being, and obtaining it from a natural source rather than supplements is even better.
Along with promoting healthy bones, Vitamin D also helps in easing the brain from emotional dilemmas, stress, and depression.
Most of us already knew that exercise was beneficial for our physical health, but after learning about the long-term benefits of exercise for mental health, we hope that more and more people make it a habit to work out regularly.
You can get all the benefits of exercise on mental health with
- 30-minutes of moderate exercise 5 times a week.
- Two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions.