Many of the fitness faithful hit the gym or pound the pavement to build muscle, lose weight, and increase endurance, but exercise has above-the-neck benefits, too.
Studies show compelling evidence that strong bodies and sharp minds go together like a CrossFit gym and burpees. In fact, more and more people are now exercising to reduce stress and improve mental resilience (ooh, ooh, that's me!). Here are seven reasons your mental health is begging you to get your fitness on.
Exercise Your Mind: 7 Mental Benefits of Fitness
- A bigger brain. Bigger quads, bigger arms, and a bigger brain?! Yes, you read that right. Around the age of 30, human brains begin to lose volume in the hippocampus (the part of the brain associated with memory and learning). Studies show that people who aren't as physically active in midlife have smaller brains than their peers 20 years later.
- Sayonara stress. I don't know about you, but I've found exercise to be my single best stress reliever. Rough day at the office? Run it off. Has chasing the kids left you with zero self care time? Spin it out. Working up a sweat has been proven to reduce mental stress. Exercise also increases production of norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the brain’s response to stress. So get your sweat fest on — working out will boost your body’s ability to deal with mental tension.
- More self discipline. Ever heard the old adage "mind over matter?" Self-control is another side effect of regular exercise. Studies show physically active folks have more willpower (AKA that morning run may help you say no that cupcake). Win-win!
- Boost happy chemicals. Feeling blue? Make the effort to hit the gym. Exercise releases endorphins, creating feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies show that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. In some cases, exercise can even be just as effective as antidepressant!
- Increased focus. Struggling to stay on task during the day? Schedule a noontime jog. Multiple studies show a correlation between physical exercise and the ability to concentrate.
- Prevent cognitive decline. Adults who exercise regularly show improvement in both short and long-term memory and reduce their risk of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- Better sleep. If you're anything like the average American, good sleep is a struggle. In 2008 over 60 million Americans were diagnosed with insomnia. According to the National Sleep Foundation people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Want to level-up the mental benefits of working out? Work out in a group setting. Participants who worked out in groups stated their mental health was 13 percent better than before, and their physical and emotional health improved by roughly 25 percent. In comparison, those who worked out alone reported no changes in their physical or emotional quality of life. They did report their mental health improved by 11 percent, but that came after exercising for twice as long as those who worked out in groups. Woah.
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