But there’s another side to exercise that’s not mentioned as often — the benefits it has for our mental health too.
So in case you needed a bit more motivation, we rounded up some of the ways exercise goes towards making our mind feel as good as our body.
Exercise releases these tiny little things in our brains called endorphins. Endorphins are what give us a state of euphoria. They’re the things that tell our brains that we feel good, that we’re ready to take on the day with a positive outlook.
And yes, for some of us just the idea of going to the gym breeds stress. But if we can get past that (and we can), making it a regular thing is a huge benefit. There’s a host of studies out there showing that although seven in 10 Americans report feeling stress on a daily basis, those who exercise are better able to manage it.
I have two words: cognitive decline. That’s the scary thing that happens to us as we get older. Our brains start to lose their ability to think quickly, process information and (especially) remember things. Luckily for us, exercise has been proven to stave off those nasty two words by increasing the size of our hippocampus, the part of our brain responsible for long-term memory and cognitive function.
Staving off cognitive decline sounds pretty darn good, but it would also be really nice if we could actually remember what happened at last week’s meeting. Yet again, exercise comes into play. Researchers have found that exercise increases the bloodflow to the cerebral cortex — the part of our brain that handles thoughts, short-term memories and perceptions. And the more blood that part’s getting, the more ability we have to retain information.
This one may seem kind of obvious, but I’m going to go there anyway. When we exercise, we look better (cause), and by default we feel better (effect). In other words, losing weight and reaping the benefits of exercise boosts our self-confidence, our self-worth, even our self-love.
Addictions take many forms. For some people, it’s a chemical or mind-altering substance. For others, it’s a feeling. And for some, it’s food. Whatever addiction we may be battling, exercising regularly can actually fight off those cravings. How? In a few different ways. It resets our body clock and balances our circadian rhythms, the things that determine when our bodies are the most energized and when they are ready to rest. That helps addicts who feel they NEED a certain thing to fall asleep or wake up reset their system. Researchers have also shown that exercise can also help addicts stay in recovery.
Exercise fosters creativity, especially for those of us who get bored at the gym all the time. Instead, we start to think about other ways we can get our fitness in, such as going for a hike, playing soccer or riding a bike outside. By default, we end up on trails or in parks, and we get to see more of the beauty the world has to offer and create lasting memories.
One of the best things about fitness for your mental health? We don’t have to be a triathlete to reap the benefits. Exercising 4-5 times a week for 30 minutes each day can give us all the happy things listed here. Sounds good to me.
What benefit would you like to see the most from exercising? Tell us in the comments below.
Author: Caitlin Hendee
Diet-to-Go Community Manager
Caitlin is the Diet-to-Go community manager and an avid runner. She is passionate about engaging with others online and maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. She believes moderation is key, and people will have the most weight loss success if they engage in common-sense healthy eating and fitness.