Exercise is as much of a mental fight as it is a physical one – so it makes sense that working out can give you physical and mental benefits. You probably know what exercise can do for your physical health, so today I want to go over the top five benefits to your emotional health and talk about how exercise can make you happier!
Raise your hand if you’ve been here before: your workout clothes are neatly folded in your gym bag, you’ve remembered to pack your sneakers, socks and a hair tie, and you’ve blocked off your schedule for a session at the gym – but you don’t actually make it there. We’ve all been there. Somewhere along the line we find that momentarily justifiable reason for not hitting the gym, or skipping out on that spin class, or passing on a strength training circuit. More often than not these excuses are a product of our own negative thoughts – maybe we’re too tired, or too busy with work, or too out of shape. Here’s the secret about working out: The hardest part isn’t always that peak moment when your heart rate is upwards of 150, or when you’re trying to push through that last repetition… the hardest part is sometimes just overcoming these negative thoughts, lacing up, and getting out there.
When you do overcome those negative thoughts and that first mental barrier and actually get started with your workout, you’ll be rewarded for it by how good it makes you feel. There is a strong connection between our psyche and our physical fitness, and there is an incredible synergy between the body and mind when working out. While the physical benefits are clear when it comes to exercise, the emotional benefits tend to be less emphasized, but they are both so important to the fitness experience. That’s why I want to share the top five ways that exercise can make you happier – so you can enjoy all of the benefits of exercise, from a healthy body to a happy mind.
1. Natural mood boost
Research shows that regular exercise can treat depression as effectively as most anti-depressant medications. How so? Exercise releases endorphins (the feel-good hormone) and spikes brain activity that is believed to be directly related to positive moods and rewarding feelings.
2. Reduce anxiety
Exercise also acts as a natural muscle relaxant, which can release pent up tension in areas such as your neck and shoulders – an area where many people hold stress. Reducing this tension can actually lessen feelings of anxiety that we associate with manifested physical stress.
3. Sleep better
Insomnia affects about 1 in 3 people, and even if the effect is minor it can have major consequences for your mental health. Exercise is a natural and effective way to defeat those nights lying awake in bed. The more active you stay throughout the day, the better you’ll be able to sleep at night.
4. Improve your focus
Another surprising benefit is that exercise has a huge impact on the efficacy of your memory and concentration skills. The release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, all play a part in retaining information and improving focus.
5. Benefit your long-term mental health
Unfortunately as we age, our cognitive abilities begin to lessen, and can accelerate into more serious issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. However there are ways we can reduce our likelihood of developing these diseases – exercise is one of them. Keeping our blood-flow strong and regulating the release of neurotransmitters keeps your mind active and helps to ward off potential illness.
Exercise can come in all different shapes and sizes, whether it’s running, walking, yoga, spin class, kickboxing, dance, or playing a sport. Ultimately, if you’re staying active every day and getting your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes, you’re doing it right. Make exercise all about enjoyment – from feeling good to thinking positive – and you’ll reap all of the benefits, both physically and mentally.
Melinda Nicci is the founder and CEO of Baby2Body, a Sport Psychologist, and professional pre- and post-natal fitness trainer. Melinda is passionate about health and wellness, travel, art, and photography, and loves spending her free time with her two children and exercising outdoors, when the London weather permits! Learn more about her at baby2body.com!