Most of us know the many physical benefits of exercise: weight control, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of diabetes, and increased energy to name a few. But what about the psychological benefits of exercise? Research shows that people who exercise regularly have better mental health and emotional wellbeing. From easing the symptoms of depression and anxiety to keeping your memory sharp, there’s no shortage of mental benefits of exercise. Whether you need motivation to get to the gym or to just take a brisk walk, the five psychological benefits of physical activity below will have you tying up your shoelaces and heading out the door!
1) Help combat depression and anxiety
Exercise is a scientifically proven mood booster, decreasing symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Physical activity kicks up endorphin levels, the body’s famous “feel good” chemical produced by the brain and spinal cord that produces feelings of happiness and euphoria. Even just moderate exercise throughout the week can improve depression and anxiety, so much so that some doctors recommend trying out an exercise regime for these conditions before turning to medication.
2) Reduce stress
Another benefit of exercise is reduced stress levels—something that can make us all happier. Increasing your heart rate can actually reverse stress-induced brain damage by stimulating the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine, which not only improve cognition and mood but improve thinking clouded by stressful events. Exercise also forces the body’s central and sympathetic nervous systems to communicate with one another, improving the body’s overall ability to respond to stress.
3) Increase in self-esteem and self-confidence
From improving endurance to losing weight and increasing muscle tone, there’s no shortage of physical achievements that come from regular exercise. All those achievements can all add up to a whopping boost of self-esteem—and the confidence that comes with it.
4) Better sleep
If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, exercise can help with that, too. Physical activity increases body temperature, which can have calming effects on the mind, leading to less sheep counting and more shuteye. Exercise also helps regulate your circadian rhythm, our bodies’ built-in alarm clock that controls when we feel tired and when we feel alert. ** However, It’s worth noting that while improved sleep is a psychological benefit of exercise, it does raise our core temperature, so sleep experts recommend not exercising close to bedtime otherwise we may end up struggling to sleep or stay asleep while our body cools.
5) Brain boost
From building intelligence to strengthening memory, exercise boosts brain power in a number of ways. Cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells—a process called neurogenesis— this of course improves overall brain performance. It also prevents cognitive decline and memory loss by strengthening the hippocampus - the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Studies also prove that physical activity boosts creativity and mental energy. So if you’re in need of inspiration, your big idea could be just a walk or jog away.