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7 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

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Most think of exercise as a way to better cardiovascular health, increase muscle size, and of course, get a chiselled physique. But that’s not where the upsides end; exercise has various above-the-neck benefits as well. Over the years, multiple studies have focused on how exercising (and staying active in general) can have a significant impact on mental well-being, irrespective of fitness level or age.

So this Sports Day (29 August), get motivated to exercise your way to improved mental health, more satisfying relationships, and overall improved quality of life.

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

Control Stress

Bad day at work? Go for a brisk walk or head straight to the gym for an excellent workout session. One of the more widely-observed mental health benefits of exercising is reduced stress levels. Working out secretes norepinephrine (a naturally occurring hormone) that guides your brain’s response to elevated stress levels.

So don’t think much before working up a sweat – ready your exercise gear and prepare to fight stress, the natural way.

Boost The Happy Hormones

Slogging on the treadmill can seem difficult, but it is surely worth the effort. Exercising secretes endorphins, the ‘happy’ chemicals that induce feelings of, well, happiness! Besides, a growing body of research reveals that working out can relieve symptoms of depression among people who are clinically depressed. Specific studies state that exercise compares favourably to antidepressants as the first line of defence against moderate depression.

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That’s precisely why fitness experts and doctors recommend more ‘exercise time’ as a way to cope with anxiety (and generally feeling blue). Don’t frown if you don’t like spending hours at the gym. Only running for 20-30 minutes, five days a week, can significantly enhance overall mood as there are many benefits of running exercise.

Boost Self-Confidence

Get on the treadmill to look (and feel) like a million bucks! That’s because on a basic level, being physically fit can improve self-esteem and self-image. Studies have shown that irrespective of weight, gender, age and size, exercise can significantly elevate perceptions of attractiveness and self-worth.

Improve Cognitive Faculties

Yes, it is true. With age, brain functions tend to go downhill. Ageing and other degenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s, damages the brain cells, thereby shrinking the brain and clouding it in the process. Among some, brain fog — a condition marked by a reduced ability to focus – becomes more pronounced with age.

Now, while exercise cannot cure Alzheimer’s (or other degenerative conditions), it can undoubtedly protect the brain from a decline in cognitive functions, something that generally begins after 50.

Alleviate Anxiety

It has been proven that exercising can help you calm down, should you be suffering from anxiety-related disorders. The happy hormones that the brain secretes during (and after) a sweaty session induce feelings of satisfaction and euphoria, reducing symptoms of anxiety, alleviating anxiety sensitivity, and fighting stress in the process.

Sharpen Memory

Get ready to win at blackjack! Regular physical activity has been proven to boost memory and better your ability to master new skills. That’s because when you exercise, new cells begin to form in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is responsible for learning and cognition.

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Sample this study that revealed running sprints significantly enhanced healthy adults’ ability to remember new words and better their vocabulary.

Control Addiction

Your brain secretes the ‘reward chemical’ dopamine in its response to any kind of pleasure – be it alcohol, food or physical intimacy. However, the downside of it is that many people tend to depend on dopamine (and the substances that promote the secretion of the hormone) to get through their day.

The upside is that regular exercise can help keep addictions in check. Mild to moderate-intensity workouts can steer the process of addiction recovery and help to control cravings. For instance, excessive consumption of alcohol can, over some time, disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm; the reason why alcohol abusers find it extremely difficult to sleep without downing a peg or two.

That is where exercise serves to reset the body clock and ensure sound sleep through the night.

In Conclusion

Exercise bestows on you far beyond than just a Greek God physique for a beach photo-shoot. Gaining confidence, relaxing a little more, and thinking clearer are some of the more pressing motivations for you to get off that couch and hit the jogging track.

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