10 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
Published on August 12, 2020 and last updated for accuracy on August 13, 2020

While working out, both your physical and mental health is taking in the nutrients of your workout. No matter what physical activity you end up choosing, be sure that it will benefit you greatly. If you do not want to do it to get a toned body, do it for your mind. 

There is no denying that exercise has multiple benefits for your mental health. And so, here are the 11 greatest benefits of regular physical activity for your mental health. Whether it is depression, anxiety, or even PTSD – exercise will help you forget all about it. 

10 Benefits for your mental health from regular exercise

 

  • It lowers your stress levels

 

Whether it is school, work, or family problems that are stressing you out, you need to make relaxation a priority one. Living with high-stress levels day after day takes a great toll on your life and health. Both your physical and mental health is at stake here, being threatened by several potential health issues (1).

While you can achieve great success through meditation and getting enough sleep, it is a physical activity that plays probably the greatest role in reducing your stress levels. Speaking of physical activity, anything would do the trick – from yoga and tai chi to a sweaty gym session or in the long run, the choice is up to you. 

Exercise improves the body’s ability to use oxygen while also improving its blood flow. Both of these effects are important while combating stress. Focusing on the repetitive motions can help take your mind off your worries, even temporary, and accomplishing your goals while working out can help bring feelings of happiness which will replace those of anxiety. So next time you feel stressed out, throw on your workout clothes and go for a run. Maybe do a couple of reps of your favorite exercises – whatever it is that will keep you moving.

 

  • It slows down the cognitive decline

 

As much as unpleasant it may seem, cognitive decline is something that happens naturally. This process starts somewhere after the age of 45. Memory loss, difficulty focusing, and reduced ability for learning new information are all signs of the naturally-occurring cognitive decline (2). These changes that come with it cannot be avoided and yet its progress can be slowed down. The good news is that daily physical activity is one of the ways to slow down this process. 

As a study published in the Neurobiology of Disease explains, daily exercise can help slow down the cognitive decline due to, not only the natural aging process but due to Alzheimer’s disease as well (3). Another study confirms these findings as well, explaining that doing exercise between the ages of 25 and 45 can help boost the natural chemicals in the brain. By doing so, it can help prevent brain degeneration of the hippocampus which is the brain area that is most affected by the cognitive decline (4).

 

  • It releases endorphins

 

If you often find yourself in a bad mood, struggling with negative thoughts that influence the overall quality of your life, think about taking on physical activity. Any form of physical activity will help boost your mood by releasing those yummy endorphins of yours. Endorphins are hormones secreted in the brain which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Those struggling with anxiety and depression experience low levels of endorphins in the brain. This is what is causing them to feel constantly low, anxious, and down.

And so, by boosting your endorphins, daily exercise can help improve your mood and alleviate the symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Many doctors recommend physical activity as part of their patients’ treatment plans. A 2004 study confirmed the benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed (5). But exercise also helps to improve the brain’s sensitivity to serotonin and norepinephrine, thus relieving the symptoms of depression and anxiety even further. Next time you feel a bit down, go for a run or even a speed walk. Maybe you can play a 30-minute home workout video on your phone and have a quick workout session at home. 

 

  • It improves your sleep quality

 

How often do you struggle to fall asleep? Do you tend to wake up in the middle of the night? Perhaps you experience headaches and irritability as soon as you wake up in the morning? All of these are signs that are pointing out to poor sleep quality. Poor sleep quality also contributes to a handful of health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, etc. 

Regular physical activity can help relax your body and mind, thus inducing better sleep quality. As science suggests, working out 5-6 before bedtime increases the body’s core temperature (6). The temperature then returns to normal a few hours later, signaling to the body that it is time to go to bed. As little as 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise can boost the sleep quality up to 65%, as a study suggests (7). So, go ahead, instead of starring in your phone before bedtime, do a quick workout or even some yoga to help calm your body down and induce sleep. 

 

  • It boosts your self-confidence

 

As much as there are people who are regularly working out as a way to feel healthier, there are many of us that do it to increase our self-confidence. And there is nothing wrong with that! This does not necessarily have to do anything with the way that you look. Although, if we are being honest, a great deal of our self-confidence comes from how attractive we consider ourselves to be. 

Well, not only will exercise help you trim off the extra pounds, but it will also tone your body and transform it. As you continue to work out, you will notice as you become stronger and your endurance is increasing. This can also act as a great boost to your ego even if strength has not been your priority number one before (8).

 

  • It boosts productivity and energy levels

 

Do you feel burned-out? Are you lacking self-discipline and struggle to finish your daily tasks? Exercise can help boost your productivity and energy levels in a short amount of time. Research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has compared the productivity levels between workers that included exercise in their daily lives and those who did not. The results clearly showed that those who were physically active experienced greater energy and productivity levels, as compared to those with a sedentary lifestyle (9).

 

  • It boosts creativity

 

If you have a creative profession such as being an artist, writer, or even a painter or you just want to boost your creativity, then we highly recommend looking into the option of working out daily. Many of us often feel uninspired and struggle with a lack of creativity. Now if your work depends on it, it can get tricky. 

Dipping into the world of fitness can help you to also dip into the world of creativity as well. As researchers suggest, a sweaty gym session can help boost your creativity for up to 2.5 hours. So next time you feel like you are lacking creativity, go to the gym or for a run. Then, hurry up with your shower and use that 2.5-hour window that you have to get the most out of it (10). This might as well be one of the best natural creativity boosting methods that we know of.

 

  • It helps control addiction

 

When you introduce any form of pleasure to the brain, as an answer it starts releasing dopamine. Dopamine acts as a reward chemical to many different pleasures – from alcohol, drugs, nicotine, sex, chocolate, fast food, etc. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon nor it is difficult for our brain to become addicted. Once the brain is addicted, we start losing control over our mind and body. 

And while we are lucky enough to be offered a variety of treatment methods when it comes to treating addiction, it is always better to turn to what Mother Nature has to offer. Getting sweaty while your heart is pounding and you are gasping for air because you just did a 10-minute HIIT session is a great way to treat your addiction. Aerobic exercise, for example, has shown great results when used to combat alcohol addiction (11).

Again, speaking of alcohol addiction, short sessions of physical activity can help eliminate the alcohol cravings as your mind and body focus on getting through your exercise goals for the day (12). If you are struggling with a known addiction, do use exercise to beat it. whenever you feel those cravings attacking you, turn your mind to something else with the help of your favorite form of exercise. 

 

  • It reduces symptoms of PTSD and trauma

 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common disorder that affects as much as 8% of the population each year (13). Dealing with this disorder not only does it significantly reduce the quality of your life, but it also exposes you to great health risks. The list includes heart disease, obesity, diabetes, digestive issues, arthritis, etc. And to think that all of these health issues can be prevented by simply exercising daily.

A 12-week study investigated the effects of three 30-minute resistance training sessions a week among patients with PTSD. The results showed that the training sessions significantly reduced the symptoms of PTSD, depression, and, anxiety while improving their mood and sleep quality as well (14). Nowadays, many doctors recommend physical activity to their PTSD patients as a part of their treatment. 

 

  • It improves the symptoms of ADHD

 

But depression, anxiety, and PTSD patients are not the only ones that will benefit from daily workouts. Exercise is highly recommended to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) patients as well because of the wide specter of benefits that it has to offer. 

ADHD patients experience a lack of motivation, poor memory, low focus, and bad mood as a part of their specter of symptoms. Because exercise gives an immediate boost the dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, it can provide an increase in focus and help control attention. If you think about it, exercise works much like some of the commonly used medications to treat ADHD such as Ritalin and Adderall (15).

How much exercise do you need?

Not everyone’s exercise goals will be the same. How much exercise you need depends on the majority of factors. Your age, gender, health status, and goals are some of those factors. let’s assume that you are here because you want to sharpen your mental health rather than lose weight by exercising. 

If that is the case, the answer is quite simple. According to the American Heart Association, it is recommended to get around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (16). Taking that into consideration, it would mean that you are supposed to aim for 30-minute workouts, five days a week. You are probably thinking that is not much. Well it is not and truly all of us have at least half an hour to do a quick workout, do we not?

But which workout is the best? Again, there is no perfect workout as this answer depends on the factors that we mentioned earlier. As long as you are doing this for the sake of your mental health, then we recommend following one rule – Do a workout that brings a smile on your face! As long as you are smiling even when you are gasping for air and being completely covered in sweat, you are doing a good job. There are so many different workouts to choose from. Chances are that you will need to experiment a bit until you like the best, but that will be worth it.

Conclusion

If you are feeling as the quality of your mental health is reducing, we highly recommend taking a look at your lifestyle. The next step would be to take the necessary changes and eliminate habits such as an unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, use of alcohol, nicotine, etc. that have a negative influence on your overall health. Moving more is a great place to start. Exercise has numerous beneficial effects on our health, especially on our mental health. We hope that you will make the smart decision and allow physical exercise to improve the quality of both your mental health and life.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4906299/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22750524/
  4. https://www.jneurosci.org/content/30/15/5368.abstract
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15033148/
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1755296611000317
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5068479/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21785369/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1332529/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2829243/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15585045/
  13. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25443996/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6617109/
  16. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness#.VtS6EBh1bYI

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