Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for the body. But exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood. And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better. What are the mental health benefits of exercise?
Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life, but that’s not what motivates most people to stay active.
People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it’s also powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges.
Benefits of Exercise and Depression
Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication – but without the side-effects, of course. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing.
Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
Benefits of Exercise and anxiety
Ever notices how your body feels when you’re under stress? Your muscles may be tense, especially in your face, neck, and shoulders, leaving you with back or neck pain or painful headaches. You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps. You may also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomach ache, diarrhea, or frequent urination. The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can, in turn, lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.
Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better, so too will your mind.
Benefits of Exercise and ADHD
Exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels – all of which affect focus and attention. In this way, exercise works in much the same way as ADHD medication.
Benefits of Exercise and PTSD and trauma
Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become ”unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) or trauma. Instead of allowing your mind to wander, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, even your inside as your body moves. Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legs – such as walking (especially in sand), running, swimming, weight training, or dancing – are some of your best choices.
Outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing (downhill and cross country) have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
Did you know about any of these benefits of exercise? Do you have a personal experience with the positive effect of the exercise on your health and you want to share it?
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