When it comes to physical health, exercise is thought to be the most effective and cheapest way of getting healthy and active. Regular exercise can improve body fitness, cardiovascular and muscular health, and body mass index. But exercise and physical activity are not only about increasing aerobic capacity and muscle size. In addition to physical health benefits, regular exercise is also good for mental health especially when it comes to relieving stress, anxiety, and depression. Recent studies and surveys report that exercise helps people improve their cognitive functions. People who exercise regularly have sharper memories, feel more energetic and active during the day and sleep well at night. They feel less stressed and more positive about themselves and their life. So, there are not only physical but also mental health benefits of regular exercise.
The most interesting fact is that it doesn’t demand you to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits of regular exercise. A regular and modest amount of physical exercise can make a huge difference. You must be wondering how can exercise help relieve mental stress and depress? There are different explanations; chemical as well as behavioral. Let’s have a look at mental health benefits of regular exercise and the mechanism behind this.
Regular exercise promotes positive changes in the brain cells and body hormones. It enhances the growth of brain cells called neurons. In addition to changes in brain cells, exercise also stimulates the production of Endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters in brain working as natural painkillers and mood elevators. Moreover, endorphins are also involved in energizing the body and inculcating a spirit of enthusiasm and optimism. They make you feel relaxed and promote feelings of calm and wellbeing. Endorphins also help to concentrate and sharpen the memory. In the case of stress, endorphins released from physical activity help to relax muscle stress and reduce body tension. In addition to endorphins, exercise also enhances production of noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin- all of which affect mental health and mood. Exercise also reduces inflammation and stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin.
Studies show that regular exercise can help treat moderate to mild depression as effectively as antidepressants but without any side effects. Depression results from accumulated stress and anxiety. Exercise helps you distract from all the negative thoughts in your mind and daily regular exercise will break the vicious cycle of negative thoughts that lead to depression. When the worries flowing constantly through the head are interrupted, anxiety is cured and so is depression. Exercise helps you pay attention to yourself and feel good about the minor changes that happen to your body after the physical activity. It boosts the hormones that enhance concentration, focus, and attention. Regular exercise promotes feelings of higher esteem and stronger resilience. Clinical trials of exercise in endurance athletes have successfully treated anxiety disorders and depression. So if athletes can get mental health benefits of regular exercise, why can’t we?
To gain mental health benefits of regular exercise, you don’t need to devote hours to the gym or running. Just a 30 minutes moderate physical activity is enough to reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. Even you can choose any physical activity of your choice as your daily exercise for the purpose. Biking, rowing, playing tennis or racquetball, swimming or doing water aerobics, brisk walking or jogging and even dancing, all can get you the benefits of exercise.It’s important to choose an activity that you enjoy rather than dread.
Even you have a busy week and don’t find enough time for daily exercise; you can relax your body at the weekend in one or two sessions. The purpose is to give your body a healthy break from daily life stress and fatigue. A recent study in the UK reported that people who exercise in one or two sessions at the weekend experience almost as many health benefits as those who work out more often. What else can be the easiest way to stay physically and mentally healthy? Just a few minutes of exercise and you are free from all the stress and anxiety along with the added benefits of physical health.
“Human bodies are designed for regular physical activity. The sedentary nature of much of modern life probably plays a significant role in the epidemic incidence of depression today. Many studies show that depressed patients who stick to a regimen of aerobic exercise improve as much as those treated with medication”. (Andrew Weil)
So let’s get started !
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