While many of us hit the gym to improve physical fitness – lose weight, trim the waistline, or build muscles, working out offers plenty of mental health benefits too. With increasing awareness about mental health and its importance for overall wellbeing, several researchers have been investigating the mental health benefits of exercising for the past decade or so. A large number of research studies have been conducted to determine the various ways physical activities can help improve our psychological wellbeing and lead to improved health and happiness.
In one such study, researchers from Oxford and Yale suggested that physical activity is more important for mental health than money. And the best thing is that you don’t have to be a fitness freak to experience the mental health benefits of exercising.
How Exercise Contributes to Improving Mental Health: 4 Scientifically Proven Benefits
To help develop a better understanding, here we are highlighting some of the ways exercise can contribute to your psychological wellbeing:
1. Reduced Stress
It is now a well-established fact that exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety by stimulating the release of endorphins and enkephalins, the endogenous mood-enhancing or feel-good hormones, in the body. The release of neuro-hormones also improves one’s ability to think, which often gets clouded during stressful situations.
In addition to this, exercise also helps release body tension, relaxes muscles, and improves the body’s ability to respond to stress by encouraging and facilitating communication between sympathetic and central nervous systems.
To further enhance the stress and anxiety-relieving properties of exercise, add the element of mindfulness in it. No matter what kind of exercise you do, try to notice and feel things like the rhythm of your breathing or heartbeat, movements of your body parts, the feeling of the wind touching your skin or face, or a relaxing natural sound around you. This will also help break the flow of negative thoughts in your brain.
2. Improved Thinking and Memory
According to Harvard Medical School, exercise can help boost thinking skills and memory both directly and indirectly. The numerous physiological changes that are stimulated by physical activity include the enhanced production of chemicals that support and improve the health of brain cells and promote the development of new blood vessels in the brain. Exercise also helps reduce inflammation in the body.
A study conducted at the University of British Columbia showed that regular aerobic exercise could also lead to increasing the size of the hippocampus – the part of the brain that plays a major role in learning and memory.
The indirect effects of exercise on brain function include its stress and anxiety-reliving properties and its ability to improve mood and sleep. All these factors can contribute to (or sometimes become the major cause of) cognitive impairment.
Regular exercise, particularly between the age of 25 and 45, can also help prevent premature neural degeneration and slow down the natural cognitive decline that occurs with aging.
3. Improved Sleep
Do you almost always find yourself counting sheep or struggle to shut off your mind at night?
Incorporating some physical activity into your daily routine can help you get a good night’s sleep. Exercise increases body temperature, depletes or reduces the energy stores in your body, and causes tissue breakdown. All these factors make us feel tired, which then can help induce and improve sleep.
Regular exercise can also help regulate circadian rhythm in the long run.
4. Better Mood
The release of endorphins not only helps relieve stress and anxiety but also helps elevate mood and makes you feel happy.
According to Michael Otto, a professor of psychology at Boston University, the mood-lifting effects of exercise can be experienced as quickly as within five minutes.
These are just a few of the mental health benefits of exercising; there’s a lot more to it. So, the next time you have a bad day at work, have an argument with someone, or just feel down, head to the gym for a quick workout or take a walk in the nearest park to experience the benefits yourself and get motivated to make it a part of your daily life. Apply a few drops of our calming and mood uplifting unwind massage oil on your body after a post-workout shower for a truly amazing experience.