“Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.” – Jim Rohn
It’s no secret that regular exercise has an immense impact on mental health; just as significant as the impact on your physical health. There have been countless studies on the topic, but I think the information is still lost on most of us. Some of the most significant benefits of regular exercise include:
Improved sleep. Sleep is essential, and lack of sleep will have a significant impact on both mental and physical health. Lost sleep has also been show to affect the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for focus, concentration, decision-making, reaction time, and more. Once sleep deprivation has reached a certain level (differs from person to person), it has been shown to hinder cognitive response, similarly to what's seen with intoxication.
Any level of regular exercise seems to make for better rest, but vigorous physical activity enhances deep sleep, and deep sleep is where we recover most.
Increased sex drive. I’m pretty sure this one is self-explanatory. I mean really, who doesn’t want a more active and fulfilling sex life?
Increased self-confidence. As strength and endurance increase, you will naturally feel stronger and more capable in life. With regular exercise, people report elevated perception of their own attractiveness and a more positive self-image.
Simply setting a plan and sticking to it automatically gives a sense of accomplishment. And as your body starts changing (increased muscle tone, fat loss, etc.), there’s a natural boost in self-confidence, which will only aid in seeing yourself in a more positive and loving light.
"Strength of mind is exercise, not rest." – Alexander Pope
Stress relief. Exercise is physical stress, so how does physical stress relieve mental stress? Physical exertion does wonders for your stress levels. It increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress.
Exercise and sports also provide an opportunity to get away and enjoy some solitude or, if you’re someone who is recharged by being social, it provides an opportunity to make friends and build networks.
I’m the former. I am an introvert by nature, so when I get to the gym, I say hi to the front desk guy, and then the headphones go on and I’m in the zone. I rarely speak to anyone. Not because I don’t like people, but as a stay-at-home-mom, this is literally one of the only times of the day I get to be “alone.” And I need my alone time.
Exercise is also play and recreation; and when your body is busy, your mind will be distracted from the worries of daily life, and will be free to think creatively, or to not think at all.
Stress can have a severely negative impact on your mental and physical health, and is not something to be ignored. You can read more on the negative effects of stress here.
Improvement in mood. Elle Woods said it best, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” Girlfriend knew what she was talking about. Exercise does release endorphins, which leads to feelings of happiness and euphoria.
Study after study has shown that regular exercise can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, in some cases regular exercise was just as effective as prescription medication.
Increased energy and stamina. It’s been shown that individuals who exercise regularly are significantly more productive, and have more energy, than their sedentary peers.
Increased mental alertness and memory. Studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells, and that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning.
Regular exercise has also been seen to increase the production of cells in the hypocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
If you’re new to working out, it’s probably going to feel like more of an exhausting chore than a stress relief, but stay the course. The first 2 weeks are always the most difficult, then suddenly, the day comes when it’s not so difficult. You don’t lose your breath as easily; you’re able to lift a little more weight. Soon it will become something you enjoy, and eventually, something you need.
You just won’t feel right without it.
“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” – Henry David Thoreau