7 Ways Exercise (Literally) Changes Your Mind
The physical health benefits of exercise have been thoroughly studied, extensively taught, openly shared, and widely incorporated into our training. But what about the mental benefits of a good workout? How does a lifestyle of fitness influence how we think and feel? Let’s take a look.
Cut the Stress
According to a Huffington Post article written by Sophia Breene, “Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress.”
Turn Up the Happy
Many of us are familiar with the cause and effect of exercise and endorphins. This happy and euphoric feeling that comes after a good sweat session is a great reward for hard work. “Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression,” wrote Breene.
Moderate to high-intensity aerobic exercises can reduce anxiety sensitivity, according to Breene. “The warm and fuzzy chemicals that are released during and after exercise can help people with anxiety disorders calm down.”
Boost Your Self-Confidence
Physical fitness can improve self-esteem and help you build a positive self-image, said Breene. “Regardless of weight, size, gender or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person’s perception of his or her attractiveness, that is, self-worth.”
Improve Thinking and Learning
It’s called “neurogenesis.” This basically means that cardiovascular exercise helps create new brain cells, which improve overall brain performance, Breene shared. “Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking and learning.”
Reset the Clock
If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep, consider regular exercise instead of a sleeping pill. “Exercise can help reboot the body clock,” Breene explained. Many researchers and scientists are now endorsing the afternoon as the ideal time to re-establish your circadian rhythm by exercising. “Moving around five to six hours before bedtime raises the body’s core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep,” Breene wrote.
Cheat Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Did you know exercise helps reinforce the brain against cognitive decline? As you work out—especially between the ages of 25 and 45—certain chemicals in the brain are released that support brain health and prevent the degeneration of the hippocampus (which is the memory and learning part of your brain). Referencing a U.S. study, Helen Briggs on bbc.com, wrote that “Aerobic exercise in your 20s may protect the brain in middle age.” Apparently, activities like running, swimming, and cycling that maintain cardio fitness “led to better thinking skills and memory 20 years on.”
Based on the studies represented above, exercise is feeling pretty good. With mental health benefits ranging from heightened self-confidence to cognitive degeneration prevention to reduced stress, it may be a little easier now to lace up the shoes and head out for a run.