Exercise and Mental Health

How Exercise Impacts Your Brain and Mental Health

It is common knowledge that diet and exercise are key to a healthy heart and a healthy life. Less often discussed are the mental health benefits of exercise. They may surprise you. This blog details the mental health benefits you gain from calorie-crushing exercise. And, no, you do not have to become a gym rat to reap the physical and mental benefits of exercise.

How exercise wires your brain to enjoy better mental health

Exercise unlocks the power of your brain, releasing chemicals that are crucial to your well-being. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI),  many studies over decades have examined the therapeutic value of exercise in reducing depression. The overwhelming majority of these studies find that many patients find their depression lessened, even gone, through exercise. Some experience such an elevation of mood, that medications are not needed. Every prescription for an antidepressant should include one little word: exercise. If you are feeling “down” but not down enough to see a doctor, see if exercise is the “pill” you need. 

If stress is decreasing your quality of life, exercise can help. The Mayo Clinic reports that exercise also has stress-busting benefits. Physical activity increases the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Exercise is meditation in motion. As you shed your daily tensions through physical activity, you may find this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm after you leave the gym and throughout the day. In short “get moving.”

According to an article printed by Harvard Medical School, exercise changes the brain so it can focus better, improving memory and thinking skills. They point to a University of British Columbia study that finds regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to increase the size of the hippocampus. This part of the brain is involved in memory and learning. Exercise is one weapon in your arsenal against dementia, not to mention the “right now” benefits of sharper focus in all areas of your life. 

The Sleep Foundation reports that more research is needed on the exercise impact on a good night’s sleep. But the good news is that studies suggest exercise significantly improves the sleep of people who struggle with insomnia. Exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and the post-exercise drop in temperature may promote falling asleep. Exercise may also reduce insomnia by decreasing the anxiety and depression that interfere with falling asleep and staying asleep. If insomnia is caused by an out-of-wack body clock, exercise can reset your clock depending on the time you exercise in relation to the time you want to sleep. See here for the best times to exercise to set your body clock forward or backward.

A little effort goes a long way

“Busy” or “too busy” is how most working adults define their lives. Fitting an exercise schedule into a full schedule may seem overwhelming even to expert multitaskers. Commitments and the never ending “to do” lists cause stress. And stress, we now know, can be significantly reduced with exercise. It is important to look at exercise as an important, but not overwhelming time commitment.  

The Mayo Clinic states that most healthy adults need 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity a week. These exercise sessions should be spread out over the week, not performed all at once. As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. The clinic recommends strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least twice a week. A single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions, will help to keep your body fit and improve your mental health. Remember that any exercise releases the endorphins that make you feel calmer and happier. 

Including exercise sessions into your week is much easier if you set goals and plan your workouts. Write down your goals, decide where you will exercise, and when you will exercise. Block out these times in your planner, making dates with yourself. Make a checklist so you can keep track of your loyalty to your program and be encouraged by your progress.

Make a New Year’s resolution, even if it is mid-summer. Remember the key to keeping a resolution is S.M.A.R.T: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. Setting short-term goals is easier to achieve than making your goal your end game. Think about the steps you must take to achieve your long-term goal, and make those steps your goals. If you are new to working out, a personal trainer can provide valuable guidance so you get the most out of the time you set aside for exercise. 

Overcoming obstacles

The first hurdle is finding and making the time for regular exercise. Then, you need to stay motivated. Thinking about your progress and how you felt after your last workout is motivating. If you exercised according to your plan for one week, working the plan for another week is just the next step. Step by step, exercise will become routine..a part of your life…a habit. Many people find exercising with friends is motivating. Another motivator is to reward yourself when you meet a goal. 

Joining an athletic club is motivating as you will be surrounded by people who share your goal of getting in shape physically and mentally. A personal trainer will build a workout plan around your goals, your time constraints, and potentially help you overcome mental barriers that keep you from working out. A trainer who understands your needs can help you knock down your barriers. 

If you want to find out how you feel after a workout, visit a Wellbridge location for your free 3-day pass to try out all of our equipment and services. You can be feeling better in no time and realize your ability to take charge of this area of your life.