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Health & Longevity

How Exercise Can Improve Mental Health

Typically, people who create fitness goals focus on the physical benefits of exercise–improved cardio, better muscle tone, those six-pack abs. But there’s a bonus to working out that they may not have considered–the benefits of exercise on mental health.

Exercise and mental health go hand in hand. In fact, lack of exercise can create mental health problems that can lead to depression, anxiety, stress, fatigue, and even dementia.

How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health?

Ever heard the term “runner’s high”? It’s the euphoric feeling people experience after a bout of aerobic exercise. This is often coupled with reduced anxiety and decreased ability to feel pain. This is the brain’s response to exercise in which the prefrontal and limbic regions release endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that release stress and alleviate pain. The truth is, they’re not unlike opioids, except they’re natural and nonaddictive. 

But that’s not the only benefit of exercise on mental health. A nice 30-minute run can:

  • Increase dopamine levels that are associated with pleasure and satisfaction.
  • Alleviate anxiety by releasing pent up energy.
  • Distract from negative thinking patterns.

What Are The Best Exercises for Enhancing Mental Health?

You don’t have to compete in a triathlon to reap the benefits of exercise for your mental health. Just 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise three to five days a week can really pay off when it comes to maintaining good mental health. This can include:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Bike riding
  • Gardening
  • Golfing
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Skiing

Carving out the time and finding the motivation to commit to exercise can prove challenging for some. However, experts recommend that you try to take three 10-minute breaks throughout the day for a brief walk, bike ride, or hip-hop dance session in the living room if that’s an issue for you. It’s guaranteed to improve your mood.

How Does Regular Exercise Pay Off?

In addition to the many benefits of physical activity for your body and your brain, there are other perks you’ll notice once you start exercising regularly:

    • Better quality sleep. Getting up and pushing yourself physically during the day instead of spending long sedentary periods in front of your computer will do wonders for your nightlife. Exercise will improve the quality of your sleep, so you’ll be more rested and better able to face each day feeling refreshed.
    • Improved endurance. If you’re just starting an exercise routine, you might notice you can’t quite complete that 30-minute Zumba class. However, if you persevere, you will notice that your endurance will steadily improve to the point where you seek out even bigger challenges. 
  • Relief from stress. When you’re feeling stressed, a brisk walk or even a jog can work off some of that anxiety and even clear your head to help you think of new solutions to problems you may be facing.
  • Better moods. Thirty minutes of dancing to your favorite tunes is guaranteed to lift your spirits and improve your mood throughout the day. 
  • Less fatigue. Surprisingly, people who exercise regularly report feeling less fatigue and increased energy after a workout. That, of course, can be attributed to those good old endorphins and the dopamine levels in your brain. 
  • Weight loss. There’s no question that regular exercise will help with weight loss. Of course, to reach serious weight loss goals, you must combine exercise with a healthy eating plan.
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness. Regular exercise improves the efficiency of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. The easier it is to pump blood through your body, the better your heart works. 

There’s no question about the many benefits of regular exercise on your physical and mental health. What’s stopping you? Lace up those tennies and get moving today. You won’t regret it.

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