You’ve probably heard many times that you should exercise to increase mental disorders symptoms. Believe it or not, there’s truth to that advice!
While it isn’t a cure, exercising is truly one of the best ways to manage and reduce symptom severity healthily. Here’s how scientific studies by fitness experts reveal 12 ways exercising can improve your mental health.
1. It Releases Positive Hormones to Increase Mental Health
The act of exercising releases neurotransmitters or hormones, known as endorphins. Endorphins are fantastic feel-good hormones that lead to experiences of emotions of euphoria, joy, and happiness overall.
Studies have long uncovered the benefits that exercise has on those diagnosed with depression. It increases positive thinking and, in certain cases, can have equal effectiveness to depression medication.
Here are some things to keep in mind about exercising for that mood boost and your health:
- The weekly exercise recommended 150 minutes of elevated heart rate per week – or 30 minutes, 5 times weekly.
- Elevated heart rate can be achieved through things other than standard gym exercises, so try dancing, gardening, walking in a park, or other similar endeavors.
- Working out with friends or family can add to the fun through social engagement, and it can also keep you motivated to exercise.
2. It Relieves Anxiety
There is plenty of common go-tos for relieving anxiety, with most options gearing towards the calming, like bubble baths or reading a book. But did you know that studies show that the most effective way to relieve anxiety is through exercise?
Yes, believe it or not, the endorphins let off during exercise is more effective for your symptoms than any common “calming” action! Here are some examples of effective anxiety aids in exercise:
- A 20-minute jog
- Aerobic exercise (moderate or high intensity)
- High-intensity interval training
3. It Helps Memory
If you find that you’re forgetful all the time, the answers you seek may lie in exercise. It’s a surprising link at first, but think about it – a healthy body means a healthy brain! Here are some studies that show how well memory can be improved via exercise:
- “Exercise training increases the size of hippocampus and improves memory,” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (2011). Did you know that the hippocampus shrinks as you age? That’s what made the results of this randomized control trial study so important. It found that cell production within the hippocampus can be boosted thanks to exercise. The hippocampus aids functions like learning and memory, and its improvement reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly.
- “High impact running improves learning” published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (2007). In another randomized control trial study, this research paper revealed that running sprints could actually boost the retention of vocabulary. This was conducted with only healthy adults, which makes the results even more promising, as it shows even those at a younger can benefit mentally from exercise.
- “A neuroimaging investigation of the association between aerobic fitness, hippocampal volume and memory performance in preadolescent children” published in Brain Research (2010). This interesting study found links between the level of physical fitness of children and their cognitive development. An obvious relationship between increased exercise and faster development was found, typically relating to how much children could remember from school and lessons.
4. It Increases Productivity
If you find your productivity dipping, it could be a sign that you need more exercise. If you actively allocate time for even a quick walk or jog daily, you could have positive changes in energy and productivity levels. Research concludes that cubicle workers who make time for exercise are typically more productive than their more sedentary counterparts. The best time might be around midday due to the body’s circadian rhythm, so try to squeeze in a little physical activity at that time.
5. It Can Boost Your Self-Confidence
Struggling with self-esteem? Hop on the treadmill, but not for the reasons you think! Fitness doesn’t just mean losing weight. It can also just make you feel good about yourself, thanks to the positive hormones it releases. This leads to better self-worth, self-image, and confidence. Better yet, these results remain the same regardless of:
- Original fitness level
What does this mean? You don’t have to be a super fit Instagram model to feel good after exercising! No matter your outer appearance, a workout at the gym or even at home can make you feel like a million bucks.
Many people fear the onset of cognitive decline as they age. Unfortunately, that’s often a standard degenerative result of growing older, as certain diseases begin to shrink the brain and kill brain cells, taking away numerous cognitive functions in the process.
Luckily, research indicates that exercise can have a positive effect on this kind of degeneration. It can protect the hippocampus by increasing cell production and engaging the memory center, allowing for better preservation of cognitive function over time.
Of course, it’s worth noting that there’s no real way to “cure” cognitive decline, and these types of diseases aren’t reversible. However, exercise can considerably slow their effects, and working out in advance at a younger age can reduce your overall risk of developing such problems as you get older.
7. It Makes You More Creative
Few people can see an immediate connection between heavily sweating and puffing at the gym and then painting a beautiful portrait at home. But, as it turns out, exercise really does make you creative as well as increase mental health!
Studies have found that those who exercise experience a two-hour creativity increase right after the fact, regardless of that individual’s actual state of mind or mood. So capitalize on post-workout time by doing something creative, or get your creative juices flowing by going for a walk!
8. It Brings Down Stress Levels and Increase Mental Health
Exercise is a fantastic way to relieve stress. The effort involved works up a decent sweat and helps you expel nervous and tense energy healthily and easily. Plus, as far as stress-related coping mechanisms go, it’s a great one to have.
The American Psychological Association supports this idea. It states that exercise can increase norepinephrine concentration. Norepinephrine is one of the chemicals that helps with stress response moderation, and having enough of it has great effects on positive thinking and stress levels. It allows you to handle tension and difficult situations better!
9. It Improves Brain Power
The act of exercising can make your brain more powerful – or, at least, that’s what experts think based on the limited research available. Judge the results for yourself; here are some of the most prominent studies on the topic!
- “Aerobic exercise is the critical variable in an enriched environment that increases hippocampal neurogenesis and water maze learning in male C57BL/6J mice,” published in Neuroscience (2012). This study found that exercise is the key factor in boosting the overall brain power and performance of mice, specifically improving their learning and brain cell generation.
- “Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males,” published in Physiology & Behavior (2011). According to this research paper, aerobic exercise can create brain cells at a faster rate, especially in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. It also increases BDNF, or brain-derived protein, levels in the body.
- “Short bouts of mild-intensity physical exercise improve spatial learning and memory in aging rats: involvement of hippocampal plasticity via AKT, CREB and BDNF signaling” published in Mechanisms of Ageing and Development (2011). In elderly rats, this study found that running for approximately five minutes multiple times a week over the course of five weeks could lead to significantly boosted brainpower. This was thanks to an increase in BDNF molecule production in their brains’ memory centers, leading to their performance on par with younger rats!
10. It Improves Your Ability To Sleep
Do you ever notice how easy it is to fall asleep after a good workout? As it turns out, this is about more than just general tiredness. Exercise causes an increase in body temperature that energizes and wakes up the body, but eventually that temperature slowly begins dropping back to normal.
When your temperature hits its usual coolness, your body automatically receives a signal: it’s time to sleep! This is so effective that even those with chronic insomnia can receive these positive effects. It’s recommended that you exercise about five or six hours before bedtime to receive the signal at the right moment.
11. It Can Inspire You And Those Around You as Well as Increase Mental Health
In most studies, it’s clear that being paired up with someone results in better exercise performance. This means that working out with others can inspire them, making you feel great about yourself. And of course, as part of that group, you will also be inspired by the people exercising around you. This may be due to these factors:
- You experience positive and healthy competition with your exercise buddies, spurring each other to do better
- The effort of your exercise buddies inspires you, and they are inspired by your efforts, in turn
- Being in a team has been scientifically proven to increase pain tolerance, meaning you and your exercise buddies have a higher chance of pushing yourselves to further and more effective limits
12. It Can Help Fight Addiction
Addiction often forms due to the feel-good hormones released in the body when you engage in unhealthy food consumption, drug usage, alcohol abuse, or intimacy. Luckily, exercise produces similar hormones that can make you feel just as positive! Studies have found that it can effectively help recovering addicts overcome their addictions. This is because it can do the following things:
- Distract addicts
- De-prioritize certain cravings in the short-term
- Provide the hit of dopamine that many addicts receive from their vices
- Balance out bodily processes and functions disrupted by addiction
Of course, keep in mind that there is no fast-track solution to overcoming addiction. It takes professional help, positive thinking, and awareness to fight that mental health problem, but exercise can certainly add help to the battle!
A healthy body means a healthy mind, so it’s no surprise that exercise is a fantastic way to increase mental health. Add it to your daily routine, and you’ll be impressed by how much better you feel!