You know exercise is good for your body, but what about your mind? Exercise enthusiasts have long claimed that it makes them feel more energetic, relaxed and positive. Now, recent studies are reinforcing the notion that exercise can improve your mental health. In fact, it can have a positive impact on many common mental health challenges.
For example, a study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running or walking can combat depression. Just 15 minutes of running each day or one hour of walking reduced the risk of major depression by 26 percent, as well as alleviating depression symptoms. Why would this be the case? Exercise fights depression in several different ways. It helps to make changes in the brain, including neural growth, new activity patterns that encourage feelings of calm and well-being, and a reduction in inflammation. Additionally, exercise releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that help to energize a person. Exercise can also serve as a distraction that breaks the cycle of negative thoughts fueling depression.
Exercise is also good for lessening anxiety. Because of the release of endorphins, tension and stress are relieved and physical and mental energy increased. While moving on its own can help, there’s more benefit if it’s done mindfully. If you’re feeling anxious, try going for a run or a walk. Notice the feeling of your feet hitting the ground, the rhythm of your breathing, the sun on your skin or the wind in your hair. By adding mindfulness to exercise, you’ll improve your physique and prevent the flow of worries in your mind.
Stress can make you feel tight and sore because it causes you to tense your muscles. You may experience a back or neck ache, painful headaches, tightness in your chest, muscle cramps and other unpleasant physical symptoms. Exercise can relax the muscles, decreasing this tension and helping your mind and body to feel better.
Here is something that may surprise you: exercise is an effective treatment for ADHD. Physical activity has an immediate effect on the brain’s chemistry, boosting dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. These all affect attention and focus, and so the result of exercise on a person with ADHD is a reduction of symptoms, as well as improved concentration, motivation, memory and mood.
Exercise can also help with PTSD and trauma. Again, this works best if you really focus on your body and how the exercise feels. This helps your nervous system get “unstuck” so that you won’t be immobilized by the PTSD or trauma. The best exercises for this purpose engage both arms and legs, involving cross movement. Walking, running, swimming, weight training and dancing are all excellent options, as are hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting and skiing.
Another recent study even indicates that exercise can boost your mental ability. Research by neuroscientists at Cambridge University shows that running promotes the growth of fresh grey matter in the brain, significantly impacting mental ability. In fact, just a few days of running can lead to the growth of hundreds of thousands of new brain cells in a region linked to the formation and recollection of memories.
Next time you’re feeling anxious, stressed, depressed, or you just want to improve your memory, exercise! At the Wellbridge Family of Athletic Clubs, we offer world-class training that keeps up-to-date with the latest in health and wellness. At our clubs, you’ll be greeted by our friendly team before you’re challenged and motivated by top-notch instructors in our fitness classes. You’ll make new friends because you belong here. Join today or contact us to learn more.