Chances are you hit the gym or train with a personal trainer because you want to improve your cardiovascular health and build muscle. However, exercise provides mental health benefits, too. Studies show that younger and older people from all different fitness levels can reap the brain-boosting benefits of exercise.
Even going for a short walk or squeezing in a quick workout after work can help with stress relief. Exercising increases the concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps moderate how our brains response to stress. It also releases endorphins, which increases our overall mood and feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies show that the release of endorphins can help alleviate some of the symptoms related to depression, anxiety, and general feelings of sadness or worry. They can also help increase relaxation and productivity, making it easier to get day-to-day tasks done and sleep more soundly at night.
Exercising can also increase self-esteem by elevating how we perceive ourselves and our self image. Studies suggest that exercising outside can increase our feelings of self-worth and self-esteem and the Vitamin D that we soak up from being in the sun is known to help with depressive symptoms as well.
If increases in mood and self-esteem aren’t motivating enough to exercise, the memory-related benefits are worth considering. As we age, our brains are more susceptible to degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia that actually kill off brain cells and impact the way our brain functions. Exercise is known to increase the chemicals that help prevent this degeneration and preserve the hippocampus, or the part of the brain that is responsible with memory and learning, although it will not “cure” any memory decline.
Regular exercise can help increase the positive side effects long after your workout is over from stress reduction to decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression to boosting brain function.
This article was written by Rachel Dubrow, LCSW.