The physical benefits of exercise are well known, but there are also many mental benefits to exercising. Not only can engaging in physical activity lower your heart rate and strengthen your muscles, but it can also improve your mental health.
It’s proven that people of all age benefit mentally from exercise.
The Mental Benefits of Exercise
Relieves Stress and Anxiety
Excessive stress can damage the immune system and leave you more susceptible to illnesses. Exercise is one of the healthiest methods of stress relief. It increases your body’s production of endorphins, which can improve your mood and mentally calm you down, even in the middle of a workout. It also increases norepinephrine, another hormone related to stress. Any type of exercise can alleviate stress and anxiety, but most people prefer aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, or playing a game like tennis for stress relief. Exercises like yoga are great for stress relief as well, because they require concentration and can distract you from stress.
There are studies that have shown that people who partake in regular exercise are more creative than people who have sedentary lifestyles. Exercise can improve convergent thinking, or thinking of one solution for a problem, as well as divergent thinking, or thinking of multiple solutions for a problem. These problem-solving skills are staples of creativity. After a workout, many people have a boost in creative thinking for about two hours. This can be heightened by being around nature, so outdoor exercises like hiking are best for increasing creativity.
Exercise is helpful for improving memory in people of all ages, but especially in seniors. In a study at the University of British Columbia, scientists discovered that exercise can reduce cognitive impairment in older adults, which boosts their memory and reduces their risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Before they began the study, the scientists conducted verbal and spatial memory tests for dozens of women in their 70s who had mild cognitive impairment. Then, the women were split into three groups: walking, weight training, and a control group. After six months, the researchers conducted the same memory tests. The women who engaged in walking and weight training scored better than they had originally, while the women in the control group scored worse.
An individual’s self-confidence can have a big impact on the overall state of their mental health. Low self-esteem can increase cortisol levels, which can have a negative effect on physical health over time. Exercise can improve self-esteem both in the short term and in the long term. Regardless of age and weight, many people report feeling more confident after exercising.
Some of the reasons for this boosted self esteem can be:
- Endorphins released in the body during exercise.
- A sense of achievement for sticking to a routine.
- More confidence in one’s physical appearance because of the physical benefits of exercise.
In addition to an increase in self-confidence, exercise can improve your overall mood, including your energy, enthusiasm, optimism, and motivation. The endorphins and other “happy chemicals” released during exercise create a euphoric feeling during or immediately after the exercise, known as the “runner’s high.” However, exercise has been proven to improve mood entirely, not just during the workout.
Even activities like gardening and housework can have an impact on mood if they elevate your heart rate.
Reduces Cognitive Degeneration
Although exercise is not a foolproof way to avoid cognitive degeneration and diseases like Alzheimer’s, it can help to reduce the risk. Exercise prevents degeneration in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center and one of the areas of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s. A researcher at the University of Miami gave cognitive tests to a group of almost 900 people around the age of 70. They took the test twice more in the following twelve years, and the individuals who had low levels of physical activity showed much more cognitive decline than those who engaged in regular exercise.