The Surprising Benefits of Exercise for Mental Health

Keep Your Brain Sharp with Regular Exercise

Feeling moody or depressed? Need a quick boost of mental energy? Then you might want to squeeze more exercise into your schedule. Regular exercise does more than just keep you fit. It also boosts brain power and cognition, wards off depression, and lifts your mood.

According to the Commonwealth of Australia, nearly one-third of adults were insufficiently active in 2014-2015. Another 15% had a sedentary lifestyle. The same source states that if all Australians did an extra 15 minutes of brisk walking at least five times a week, this would reduce the total disease burden by 13%.

A sedentary lifestyle can hurt your waistline — and your mental health. Current evidence suggests that stopping exercise may trigger depression in healthy adults. Regular physical activity, on the other hand, may relieve anxiety, stress, and depression.

Need more proof? Here are some surprising benefits of exercise you may not be aware of:-

Exercise Boosts Your Brainpower

Whether you’re into swimming, running, weightlifting, or team sports, regular exercise can benefit your brain. For example, a 2016 study indicates that working out four hours after learning may improve one’s ability to retain and recall information. As the researchers note, physical activity may improve memory consolidation and make it easier to learn new things.

These benefits are due to the effects of exercise on the brain. Physical activity triggers the release of dopamine, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), and other compounds that increase neural plasticity. These substances help your neurons form new connections, leading to enhanced memory and cognition.

But that’s not all. Exercise may help improve mental focus and work performance, reports a study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

An active lifestyle has both immediate and long-term benefits in people of all ages. It not only boosts memory function but also supports mental well-being and may slow down cognitive decline.

Get Moving to Manage Stress

Like it or not, the fact is that stress is an integral part of the modern lifestyle. If left unaddressed, it can affect mental health and put you at risk for depression, among other issues. One way to deal with stress and mitigate its harmful effects is to exercise more often.

Physical activity may improve your ability to cope with stress and lift your mood. Working out regularly can relieve the tension, anger, and anxiety that go hand-in-hand with stress.

When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins and other “feel-good” chemicals that promote relaxation. These substances act as natural painkillers while boosting your energy and stamina.

Working out also reduces the stress hormone cortisol levels, states Harvard Medical School. While it’s true that it temporarily increases stress by spiking cortisol and adrenaline, it balances your mood in the long run. Aerobic exercise appears to be particularly beneficial.

Reduce Your Anxiety Levels

Regular exercise is by no means a cure for anxiety, but it may help relieve its symptoms and boost your mood.

First of all, it diverts you from the things you’re worried about. Second, it increases the release of dopamine and other neurochemicals that fight stress and anxiety. Physical activity also activates the brain regions that control executive function, giving you more control over your emotions.

According to a recent study, anxiety levels may increase immediately after aerobic training and drop after just 10 minutes of recovery. In the long run, cardiovascular exercise may decrease anxiety and relieve depression.

The exact mechanism by which exercise reduces anxiety is not known. Some experts attribute this beneficial effect to the release of “feel-good” hormones. Others say that physical activity increases blood flow and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen, which in turn, may ward off anxiety.

Some people begin to feel better immediately after a workout. Others experience these effects during exercise. Think about the so-called runner’s high, which is a sense of euphoria and well-being occurring during physical activity.

Fight Depression with Regular Exercise

As mentioned earlier, regular exercise may help prevent and relieve depression. In clinical trials, physical activity has been associated with reductions in mental tension, anger, depressive symptoms, and emotional stressors. Surprisingly, it may benefit even those with major depressive disorder.

Staying physically active can reduce stress, mood swings, and factors linked to depression. Additionally, it may improve your sleep, allowing your body to recover from daily stress and fight the blues. Think of it as a simple, effective way to take your mind off worries, release feel-good endorphins, and boost your energy. These benefits are long-lasting, according to the journal Preventive Medicine.

In a 10-week study, researchers compared the effects of running, cognitive therapy, or running AND cognitive therapy on moderately depressed subjects. All three approaches yielded similar results. These findings indicate that regular exercise might be a cost-efficient alternative to traditional depression treatments.

Regular Exercise Slows Cognitive Decline

Dementia, a degenerative disease causing cognitive decline, was responsible for nearly 16 per cent of all deaths in Australia in 2015. Over half of those living in residential care facilities across the country struggle with this condition.

The causes of dementia range from genetics and aging to lifestyle factors. Although you may not be able to prevent it, you can take the steps needed to slow down its progression. A balanced diet combined with regular exercise may help, according to recent evidence.

Both exercise and healthy eating patterns support cognitive function and may slow cognitive impairment. Physical activity promotes the formation of new brain cells, fights inflammation, and lowers stress levels, which may decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative ailments.

Reap the Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

These are just a few of the many benefits of exercise on mental health. Consistency is the key. Remember, it’s never too late to start moving.

Choose an activity you enjoy and stick to it. Begin with small steps, build up your strength and endurance, and add new exercises to the mix as you progress

Too busy to work out? A little exercise is better than none. Split your workout into mini-sessions or build a small home gym so you can exercise anytime. All you need is a set of dumbbells or kettlebells and resistance bands, exercise balls.

Yoga, running, jogging, and brisk walking require no equipment, so that’s something you could try. Bodyweight exercises can be just as effective as working out at the gym. Burpees, squats, plank jacks, mountain climbers, and other movements burn calories while improving your overall fitness.

So, what are you waiting for? Get started today! Your future self will thank you.

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