Most of us have heard at length the physical benefits of exercise from weight control, reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, lower blood pressure, and an increase in energy etc. In this article, we are going to focus less on the physical and explore the psychological benefits of exercise. From easing the symptoms of depression to lowering anxiety or to just keeping your memory sharp there is no shortage of mental benefits of exercise. If you are looking for motivation to book a class, or just to take a brisk walk, these psychological benefits will have you lacing up your MetCons and heading out the door.
Reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety How do you feel when you’ve completed your training session? Even when you’re red-faced, a bit gross and struggling to peel yourself off the floor, you’re pretty pleased with yourself turning up and giving it a go, right? That’s because exercise is a scientifically proven mood booster.
Physical activity increases the production and release of endorphins, the body’s famous “feel good” chemical. Endorphins are manufactured in the brain, spinal cord, and in several other areas of the body and reduce the way our bodies feel pain by interacting with receptors in the brain, whilst also creating feelings of happiness and euphoria. Even moderate forms of exercise throughout the week can increase the production of these endorphins, improving a number of symptoms related to depression and anxiety, with some doctors recommending increasing exercise for these conditions before exploring other treatment options.
Decreased stress Whilst not a psychiatric diagnosis, stress is linked to mental health in two major ways, stress can lead to mental health problems or it can make your existing symptoms worse.
Exercise has been proven to reduced stress levels—something we could probably all use this year.
When you exercise, you increase your heart rate, which has been shown to reverse stress-induced brain damage by stimulating the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine. These neurohormones improve not only cognition and mood but can also improve thinking clouded by stressful events. Exercise also forces the body’s central and sympathetic nervous systems to communicate with one another, improving the body’s overall ability to respond and react to stress.
Better sleep If you have trouble settling down, and getting a good nights sleep, then exercise can help with that too. Exercise increases body temperature which can have calming effects on the mind, leading to less time tossing and turning, and deeper, more restful sleep.
Physical activity helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, known by many as our “bodies alarm clock”, which controls when we feel tired and when we feel alert. Whilst improved sleep is a psychological benefit of exercise, sleep experts don’t recommend exercising too close to bedtime.
Greater self-esteem and self-confidence From improving cardiovascular endurance to weight loss and increased muscle tone, there are so many physical achievements that arise from regular exercise. All of those achievements add up to a large boost in self-esteem, and the confidence that comes with it. Whilst the goals for your new fitness regime, may not have been for better fitting clothing, muscle definition, or the ability to climb a hill without getting winded, oftentimes it happens before you even realise it. It’s just one of the many benefits of physical activity that boost your body, mind, and spirit.
Whilst most people won’t need to consult their doctor before gradually increasing their level of exercise, if you are planning a greater increase is definitely worth checking in with your doctor to find out which activity, intensity and volume is best for you.
If you exercise regularly but depression or anxiety symptoms still interfere with your daily living, see your doctor or mental health professional. Exercise and physical activity are great ways to ease symptoms of depression or anxiety, but if you need more support please reach out.