Many people exercise every day to build muscles, build aerobic power, keep their bones strong, improve their breathing, and lose weight. But apart from physical enhancements, there are other complementary benefits too. For the past few years, health and fitness researchers have confirmed that exercise benefits mental well-being in a number of ways.
Regardless of the intensity of the workout or the age of the person, exercise offers some real benefits to the brain. When combined with the physical benefits, such as fitness and flexibility, exercise gives you the best of both worlds. If you’ve been postponing your exercise goals for months, here are some inspiring reasons why you should pound the pavement or hit the gym.
- Reduces Stress. Having a stressful day at the office? Go for a quick walk, climb stairs for 5 to 10 minutes, or practice deep breathing to feel better instantly. Exercise causes the release of the hormone and neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is responsible for regulating stress. The more you indulge in physical activity, the better your brain’s response to stress.
- Boosts Happy Chemicals. Sweating it out with weights can be tough, but in the end it’s worth the effort. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that are associated with euphoria and happiness. In the long term, daily exercise can even offset symptoms of depression and anxiety. You don’t have to be a gym junkie to feel the positive effects. Performing simple exercises like walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling can help release sufficient amounts of endorphins to keep you in a lively mood. Studies have shown that exercise is one of the best natural equivalents for taking antidepressant pills.
- Prevents Cognitive Decline. With age, the brain can start to become a bit hazy. Existing brain cells start to shrink faster and the growth of new cells slows down at the same time. These can in turn cause memory-related problems like common forgetfulness or, in more severe cases, Alzheimer’s. As the health of brain cells deteriorates, the neurons lose their strength to remember and recall, and in turn this causes cognitive decline. Exercise boosts the production of chemicals in the brain that protect the neurons by slowing down the aging of tissues. In turn, this slows down degeneration of the hippocampus, which is the most important area associated with cognitive skills. As a result, the memory, recall, and thinking ability of people who exercise is better than those who do not.
- Improves Self-Confidence. It’s no secret that exercise helps burn off fat and tones muscles, but it also improves body posture—which tends to make a person look more confident. Exercise can help improve self-esteem and confidence, and make you feel (and look) like a million bucks.
- Sharpens Memory. Exercise boosts the brain’s ability to learn new things and memorize them faster. As mentioned earlier, regular physical activity helps increase the production of cells in the hippocampus, which is linked to learning and memory. This method of exercise-based cell growth is healthy for kids as well as adults. Studies have shown that running and cycling are among the best exercises for memory improvement and vocabulary retention.
- Controls Addiction. Exercise is like a drug—it’s as addictive as any other substance or habit you’ve developed over time—but it’s a miracle drug that saves you from all types of harmful addictions. During exercise, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which influences the pleasure-reward area of the brain. In fact, our cravings for food, drug, sex, and alcohol are formed as a result of dopamine imbalance. Exercise helps balance dopamine levels in the brain.
This article was originally published on NaturallySavvy.com