Whether you’re looking for a surge of creativity or hoping to beat the blues, exercise could be a great solution. We’ve combed through the research and outlined some of the many ways exercise can improve your mental health.
Boosts Your Mood
Regular exercisers are quick to point out the boost in energy and mood that comes after physical activity (sometimes called the runner’s high). Though researchers aren’t in total agreement about what specifically causes that boost, medical professionals recommend exercise as a way to lift spirits.
Keeps the Brain Sharp
When stuck at work or struggling to make a decision, your best bet may be to fit in some exercise. Many studies suggestexercise improves brain function almost immediately and the positive effects can make a big difference in the long-run. For help with decision making, planning and learning new information, a Harvard Medical School study suggests making exercise a top priority.
Protects Cognitive Function Long-Term
“Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age,” reports the CDC and they’re not alone in their findings, scientific studies point to exercise as a way to improve memory and brain health in older adults. In an age when Alzheimer’s is a big concern and researchers are finding that physical activity may help, exercise is as important as ever for older adults and it’s never too late to start.
From spelling and vocabulary tests to recalling names, memory is a major part of life from elementary school through adulthood and research suggests that exercise can help with recall. Even prior to the publication of that study, though, The New York Times reported on earlier studies that showed a correlation between exercise and better memory.
If you’re having trouble thinking “outside the box” a tough run or strength training session might just be the answer to your creativity block. A number of studies on the subject have shown that physical activity improves creative thinking, for a couple of hours after exercise. That should be enough of a boost to beat whatever creative block is in your way.
For most people, stress is a constant factor in their daily lives, which means it’s incredibly important to find ways of dealing with it effectively. The Mental Health Foundation recommends exercise as a way to relieve tension, stress and mental fatigue and others sources agree. Many believe that chemicals called neurotransmitters boost your mood post-exercise also help relieve stress and one study even found that exercise can help reduce the ill-effects of stress internally.
Helps Relieve Symptoms of Depression
It’s estimated that 19 million adults in the U.S. suffer from depression, a condition that’s often treated with counseling, anti-depressants, or a combination of both. Although those methods of treatment have proven effective for much of the population, according to a major study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, exercise could be just as effective as anti-depressants when it comes to treating depression. There are numerous benefits to including exercise in treatment for depression—it’s a low cost, stigma-free way to feel better instantly.
Helps Relieve Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders, which affect about 40 million adults, are reportedly the “most common psychiatric illnesses in the U.S.” Research has shown a correlation between frequent exercise and lower instances of anxiety and several studies suggest exercise may help reduce anxiety or anxiety symptoms. It’s been proposed that exercise may be a good course of action for those who can’t receive traditional medication.
Regular exercise can boost your self-confidence in a big way. You’ve likely experienced this first-hand, but the phenomenon is backed by several studies too. One study in particular suggests the mood and self confidence boost is even greater when you take your workout outdoors; but just sticking to a routine that’s good for you and, eventually, seeing the results in the mirror will do wonders.
Exercise Can Provide Social Support
You might guess that working out with a friend can help further your goals, but workout buddies bring other benefits, too. Exercising with friends can help foster feelings of connectedness and dispel feelings of loneliness, which can really weigh on the mind and body. Bring a friend to your next workout, get into a group exercise class or opt for a gym with a good community to reap the benefits.