We all know the physical advantages of exercise: weight management, control of blood pressure, decreased risk of diabetes, increased energy, strength & fitness just to name a few benefits. But do we understand the psychological advantages? There are numerous mental health benefits of regular exercise, from calming signs of stress and anxiety to improving concentration, stronger resilience, sharper memory & increased self-esteem. For an injection of inspiration, check out 5 emotional advantages of physical activity -
- Decreased Stress
Exercise has been shown to reduce tension & relax muscles. Even a 20-minute walk can clear your head & reduce stress. Stress comes in many forms & can produce physical symptoms. Muscles become tense restricting movement, you may get headaches, back & neck pain. An increased heart rate & sweating is common, as is rapid breathing, heartburn, cramps & even diarrhea. Strategies to reduce the triggers that cause stress can range from professional therapy; self help via meditation, books, life changes & behavior modification or support people. But one of the first ports of call to implement is a form of physical activity you will start & stick with on a regular basis. You may try everything from Yoga or Pilates to a structured class, walking or jogging, a sporting activity or bike riding. A combination of various forms of activity will offer a more balanced result. Most beneficial is to include repetitive movements in your weekly routine that use large muscle groups, such as jogging, walking, boxing or bike riding. Our bodies weren’t designed to be sedentary; movement encourages blood flow & makes us feel alive & energised. Activities that encourage the mind & body to work in sync are a powerful stress reliever that will provide a multitude of benefits.
- Help for Depression and Anxiety
Exercise has been proven to make a significant difference to both depression and anxiety symptoms. In some mild to moderate depression studies, physical activity has been shown to be as effective as medication. Exercise releases endorphins (neurochemicals) that make you feel great after an exercise session lifting your spirits & reducing negative thoughts that dampen your mood. They are like the bodies natural painkillers. A good practice is to totally immerse yourself in the activity, similar to an active meditation. Listen to your breathing, motivating music or a podcast. Exercise acts as a distraction to so you can remove yourself from constant worrying thoughts & damaging self-talk. Focus on what you are doing & how your body is responding. Doing something positive like regular exercise is a healthy coping strategy if implemented long term opposed to the use of medication, alcohol or comfort foods.
- Increased Self-Confidence
How does exercise increase your self-confidence? Partaking in regular exercise makes you feel more comfortable & in-control. You feel better about yourself that comes with a sense of accomplishment. When you achieve even small exercise goals a sense of pride & achievement lifts your mood thus self-esteem & confidence. When you feel more confident your outlook of life improves & you see things differently. Whatever your goals are from general fitness to weight loss, improving strength, flexibility or injury prevention, along the way you will notice a boost in self-confidence. Your body image will improve, creating an environment where you feel good about yourself. And how you really feel about yourself is the foundation of self-confidence. Don’t be too hard on yourself if there are days when your schedule doesn’t allow you to exercise. Practicing self-kindness is very important so you don’t adopt an all or nothing attitude. Endeavour to make exercise a habit that is not negotiable, it’s a normal part of your life.
- Brain Boost
Exercise enhances brain capacity in many ways. Heart rate increases which pumps more blood, oxygen & nutrients around the body including your brain. Exercise will promote the release of hormones & stimulate growth of new connections between cells. Research has also proven exercise will increase growth factors for the brain to potentially grow new connections. This all results in overall brain health from regular exercise.
- Better Sleep
There is plenty of evidence to support incorporating exercise for a better nights sleep. When you exercise your body temperature increases, later when you return to your normal body temperature this promotes a feeling of drowsiness that assist quality sleep. Sleep is imperative for good general health, energy levels, immune function, concentration, productivity, alertness & mental health. Stress & anxiety can affect sleep, so incorporating a regular exercise schedule is vital to reduce symptoms & get the rest your body needs.