4 Reasons Why Exercise is Good for Mental Health
Good health is a priority for most people. It’s multifaceted and requires tons of energy. Living a healthy life is not a simple thing. It’s quite difficult but the benefits are overwhelming. Most people tend to focus only on the physical benefits: losing weight, feeling more confident, feeling more energized, etc., but there are tons of mental benefits as well!
As a Social Worker and avid gym goer I like to do things that help both my mind and body. Exercise is perfect for that. It has the ability to improve your mindfulness, mental health, mood, concentration and so on. Take a look at the 4 ways exercise can affect and improve your mental health.
1. Releases & Renews Focus
Oh how easy it is to get pulled down the rabbit hole that is anxiety! I am a super anxious person; I overthink absolutely everything. I am the person that fabricates intricate scenarios, freaks myself out about them for days, and then realizes it was not that bad a situation and was completely in my head.
Exercise is the only thing I have found that helps me escape from the never-ending thoughts in my head. It forces me to be present in the moment, focus my energy into something positive that requires mental strength, allows me to release energy, and renews my focus. Even if you don’t suffer from anxiety I’m sure there are still times you feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and completely disconnected. Exercise will provide you the opportunity to release that frustration and renew focus.
2. Improves Mood
Because exercise affords you the opportunity to release negative energy and renew focus, it’s no surprise that exercise is a natural mood booster. Have you ever gone to the gym feeling awful and left feeling worse? I definitely haven’t. That’s because exercise releases tons of chemicals in the brain. As your heart rate begins to rise, your brain reacts immediately releasing GABA ( calming neurotransmitter that builds immunity), norepinephrine (“feel good”mood boosting chemical), dopamine (the main “feel good” neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure center) and serotonin (neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of serenity and hopefulness).
As you are working hard, your brain is working even harder. Honestly, if exercise only affected our aesthetics and physical appearance I probably would not focus on it as much but the fact that it actually makes you FEEL better makes the hard work completely worth it.
3. Increases Self-Confidence
There’s nothing quite like having a kick ass workout and feeling accomplished. You’re working hard, taking care of yourself, increasing your strength, improving your mental toughness, and feeling your body change. You’re proud of your accomplishments and feel secure in who you are.
I really have never been more confident. Like most women who are held to unrealistic expectations of beauty, I've always felt pressured to be skinny and felt as though I was way below expectations. Exercise has contributed 100% to building my confidence and ability to love myself. You don’t have to be skinny, muscular, or anything else that anyone wants or expects you to be. As long as you love you and you feel confident in who you are that is all that matters.
4. Prevents Cognitive Decline and Sharpens Memory
Exercising on a regular basis triggers additional production of cells in the hippocampus, a structure in the brain that is responsible for memory and learning. Thereby increasing our ability to learn new things and recall memories while decreasing degeneration of this area of the brain and these brain functions.
I work in a memory care unit with individuals that have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease so I have seen what happens when the hippocampus degenerates. So far, there aren’t many studies identifying ways to prevent dementia but I have been told numerous times how important it is to exercise regularly and eat well. Protect your hippocampus; exercise! :)
Not only is exercise beneficial for physical health but it is almost vital for mental health as well. Releases & renews focus, improves mood, increases confidence, and sharpens memory are only four of the many mental health benefits of exercise. There really is not a reason in the world that should keep you from engaging in some type of physical activity that you enjoy.
I understand that sometimes there are barriers that may get in the way of you engaging in physical activity. Positively enough though, exercise and physical fitness can be adjusted to fit any unique situation. If you can't do this thing, then you can do that thing. There's always a way to work around your barriers. So, if there is something holding you back or if you have specific questions as to how to adjust your exercise routine, feel free to reach out to me or someone else you know that is qualified to help. I'd love to answer any questions or provide any advice!
Feel free to share what mental benefits you experience from working out. Thank you so much for reading!