When you’re feeling low, the last thing on your mind is tackling an intense workout, but exercise does more to lift your mood than you might think. In fact, it’s one of the best — and easiest — ways to improve your mental health and wellbeing. It can actually change the way you think, for the better. If you need a few tips to help get you started, we’ve got you covered. Read on to discover all the amazing things that exercise can do for your mental health.
We know how good exercise is for our body when it comes to fitness, strength and weight loss, but we often underestimate how beneficial it is for our mind, too. It not only makes you feel good, it makes your mind sharper, it improves your memory, helps your creativity, and it can even help with anxiety and depression, too.
Just 10 minutes of light exercise is enough to boost your brain power — studies have shown that exercise has a short-term impact on the hippocampus (the part of your brain that helps with learning and memory) with a long-term impact after just 12 weeks.
It can also help fend off age-related cognitive decline, giving more protection against Alzheimer’s, and on the other end of the spectrum, it also helps to boost children’s academic performance.
So the more you work out, the better your brain function will be, and you’ll feel happier, too — your brain releases endorphins when you exercise (feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain that produce a euphoric feeling when you exercise). It really is therapy for your body, mind and soul.
Despite the fact that 1 in every 5 Australians — about 4 million people — suffer from a mental illness in a given year, and almost half the population has suffered a mental disorder at some time in their life, a lot of people avoid exercise, particularly if they’re feeling stressed or anxious. Truthfully, it’s one of the greatest and ? most effective stress-busters you can try. So why aren’t we all doing it moreHere are 7 reasons you should be.
How does exercise improve mental health?
1. It helps you destress
Apart from trimming a few pounds and reducing the risks of various chronic conditions, regular exercise has been shown to have a profound impact on mental health. Research has found that regular physical activity promotes the release of endorphins and serotonin in the brain, both of which are feel-good chemicals that help with reducing stress and anxiety.
When your brain releases endorphins, it helps your brain and your body relax, which in turn helps you deal with stress in a more relaxed way, making it much easier to manage.
2. It’s a natural treatment for depression
Some studies have even suggested that regular exercise are just as effective as pharmacological and psychological treatments for mild depression and anxiety. Exercise produces natural antidepressant effects by lowering the rates and hindering the symptoms of depression.
Exercising increases levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine (feel-good chemicals in the brain) that people suffering from depression have lower levels of. So, when you work out, areas of the brain are stimulated by these feel-good chemicals, giving you a positive euphoric feeling. So the more you exercise, the better you’ll feel, both physically and mentally.
3. It helps lower anxiety
Exercise decreases tension and worry by reducing muscle tension, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and increasing alpha waves in the brain, all of which work together to help you reach a more relaxed and tranquil state of mind.
Exercise is one of the best treatments for anxiety because it literally calms you down and relaxes your mind.
4. It boosts your brain power
Studies have shown that exercise can actually enhance your thinking. For example, one study from 2013, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, showed that people who exercise regularly demonstrated improved divergent and convergent thinking, i.e. creativity and problem-solving, respectively.
Everyone is capable of both convergent and divergent thinking, however most people naturally lean towards one or the other when it comes to problem solving. Exercise can actually enhance both these ways of thinking, which means it will help with your overall creativity.
5. It improves your memory
Aerobic exercise increases oxygen flow to the brain and decreases brain cell loss, which can help you think more clearly both during and after a workout. But not only that, exercise actually changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.
A study by University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise — workouts that get your heart and your sweat glands pumping — appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the the part of your brain that’s involved in verbal memory and learning.
It also increases the connections between the nerve cells in the brain. This improves your memory and helps protect your brain against injury and disease.
6. It gives you more energy
Any exercise or physical activity that gets the heart rate up, the blood flowing and releases endorphins is going to raise your energy levels. When you improve your physical health, you’ll automatically experience greater mental and emotional wellbeing. So the more energy you have, the happier and healthier your mind will be.
7. It helps you sleep
It also improves sleep quality which then increases energy levels during the day, all of which play important roles in ensuring your overall mental wellbeing. The more you exercise, the more energy you use up, so you’ll sleep better during the night and feel more energised during the day.
How much exercise is enough?
It’s recommended to undertake 30 minutes of moderate to intensive exercise on most, if not all days of the week. But we understand that not everyone here is a fitness junkie. You can still keep fit without having to do a HIIT class. Just try to take 10-15 minutes (at least) with a few morning and lunchtime walks, gentle jogs, cycling, swimming, yoga, Pilates — whatever exercise you enjoy to make it easier for you to fit into your daily routine.
Struggling to find the motivation to exercise?
Trying to fit new activities into your daily routine can be hard, but you don’t have to think big to incorporate more exercise into your week. Start off by setting small, realistic goals and monitor your progress periodically.
Scheduling regular workout times are also really helpful in building exercise into a daily habit.
Mixing up activities from time to time and introducing variety allows you to also enjoy your workout sessions more.
You can also turn exercise sessions into a bonding activity with family and friends either by working out together at home or virtually.
Here are some other tips that could help get you started.
So, start now – find an activity that you enjoy and get the most out of it, both physically and mentally.
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