I don’t think I need to explain the physical benefits of exercise to you. We all know how important it is for our bodies. But what some people don’t realize, is that when you exercise, you can actually do a lot of good for your mind too. Just think of your mind as a muscle, and it makes sense when you consider how you feel while you’re doing vigorous exercises.
It’s a mental game as much as it is a physical game. If you can convince yourself to ignore the pain and the fatigue, you can go for longer. Your body is telling your mind that it wants to stop, but if you have worked on training your brain you can fight this.
An active brain is a productive one. Here’s five ways that exercise will aid your mental health:
- It Improves Your Sleep
Your body has an in-built function that’s known as a circadian rhythm, which is essentially something that controls when you feel tired.
The fact that we all sleep at night are at our most alert first thing in the morning is a purely biological phenomenon that is controlled by the circadian rhythm.
When your up late at night and spending more time in bed during the day, your circadian rhythm is off which means that your body must focus its efforts on keeping you awake. This can affect your mood in a big way because your brain won’t be getting the necessary nutrients to function at its highest level.
If you exercise, your body temperature will increase too, which will help you relax and allow you to sleep easier. It will help your immune system too, which means that your brain should be getting the energy that it needs.
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- It Will Help Reduce Stress
There is a chemical in your system that helps control your brains stress called norepinephrine. A good way to build up this in your system is to raise your heart rate. With high concentrations of norepinephrine in your body, your brain will have the necessary tools to combat any source of stress.
You stress levels are also influenced by tension in your muscles, and although you are working these muscles while exercising, the end result is that they will be relaxed.
A relaxed body will make for a relaxed brain too. And exercise forces you to focus on something other than the negative thoughts that are clouding your mind. Stress is essentially a consequence of you not thinking clearly, and when you set yourself a goal such as to run a mile or do a certain number of push-ups, you will divert your attention to that.
- It Prevents Cognitive Decline
Anything that’s good for your heart is good for brain. Cardiovascular exercise (or just cardio to most of us) will actually create new brain cells. This is what’s known as neurogenesis and it’s a process that will ensure your mind is in fighting condition as you get older. Once you pass the age of 45, your brain will begin to shrink and you will lose a certain level of cognitive function.
This could mean that you develop something serious like Alzheimer’s disease or that you just can’t quite focus and remember as well as you used to be able to. If exercise, you can build up these brain cells to replace the ones that are slowly starting to succumb with age.
Your mental health is directly linked to your overall level of intelligence and so you should make the effort to keep on top of your mental health by exercising.
- It’s a Healthy Coping Mechanism
At some point, we’re all going to encounter some kind of trauma in our lives that we have to find a way to cope with. This could be the loss of a loved one, it could be a major setback in your career, there’s lots of things that can cause serious trauma.
And everybody copes differently. For a lot of people, the coping mechanisms that they jump to are unhealthy ones. Maybe they’ll comfort eat or they will get angry and lash out at other people in their lives who haven’t done anything wrong.
These things might seem like they’re helping but in reality they are just creating more problems. As we said before though, exercise helps give you a sense of focus. It will allow you to take your mind of whatever is bothering you and it will also increase brain function to help you deal with negative thoughts more effectively.
This is why it’s a much more healthy coping mechanism than the ones most of us are used to and I believe you should turn to exercise when dealing with some kind of trauma.
- It Will Fight Depression
Stress and depression are actually linked, and so it should come as no surprise that exercise can help fight depression as much as it fights stress.
You will find that exercise makes you happy and this is because it releases a number of chemicals into your system, which are called endorphins. We will often refer to these as ‘happy chemicals’ because they reduce our perception of pain. This includes both physical and mental pain. That’s basically what depression is. It is a type of pain and so a release of endorphins will help alleviate that.
Of course, you shouldn’t consider it as a genuine treatment for clinical depression. Sometimes therapy or medication is necessary but exercise could still be beneficial even in that case.
In many ways, your mind and your body are one in the same. Everything about how your treat your body impacts your mood. Your diet, your lifestyle, you habits, they are all factors and exercise is one of the positive habits you can pick up to help both your body and your mind.
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