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6 Mental Health Benefits of Regular Exercise

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

Everybody knows that exercising is good for our bodies. However, we rarely think about the mental health benefits of exercise. When you exercise, chemicals in your brain that enhance your mood, memory, and learning are released. When people engage in regular physical activity, they feel a sense of greater well-being. They have more stamina throughout the day, better sleep at night, better memory, and a more optimistic outlook on life in general. It's also an effective treatment for a wide range of mental health issues. These are six mental health benefits of regular exercise that will give you an incentive to put your running shoes on and hit the gym.

Here are 6 mental health benefits of regular exercise...

A woman doing yoga outside during sunset

1 Depression and regular exercise...

Exercise has been shown in studies to improve one's mood and lessen the effects of depression and anxiety. Endorphins, the body's well-known "feel good" hormone that comes from the brain and spinal cord, release when you exercise. These hormones are responsible for inducing emotions of joy and euphoria. The effects of even modest exercise on sadness and anxiety can make a huge difference.

The relationship between sleep and exercise shouldn't be overlooked either. Regular exercise can help you sleep better and more, which, in turn, leaves you in a better mood. It also allows you to feel more energized and thus exercise even more. It basically creates a loop of energy, which is a massive help in battling darker thoughts.

2 Exercise against stress...

When you're experiencing stress, your body reacts. Regular exercise helps you cope with stressful situations. Take moving, for instance: it's one of the most stressful events in a person's life. During high-stress periods such as this, you can experience tightness in the muscles, which can cause back or neck pain as well as unpleasant headaches. Tightness in the chest, heart racing, or muscle cramps are also possible symptoms. And, as hard as you try, it's tough to stay calm during the process. However, due to the anxiety and discomfort brought on by these bodily symptoms, you may experience even more stress. It can lead to an endless cycle of tension and discomfort.

Breaking the pattern of inactivity with regular physical activity is a proven strategy to combat stress. Besides producing endorphins in the brain, physical activity aids in the relaxation of the muscles and the alleviation of physical tension. The body and mind are one organism, so when you start feeling better mentally, your body will follow.

Alt-tag: A smiling, relaxed woman stretching in the sun with her hands on her head.

A smiling, relaxed woman stretching in the sun with her hands on her head.
A regular exercise plan will benefit your mental health by reducing stress.

3 Self-esteem boost for mental health...

It is the gap between your ideal self and the person you actually are that gives you a sense of self-worth. The closer you think you are to your ideal self, the more confident you feel. Those who stick to regular exercise have a higher sense of their own self-worth. This is because they usually have a positive self-perception due to the work they put in to see results. It might also be correlated to self-discipline, especially concerning food and exercise in a weight loss journey. When we can undertake the challenges of healthy habits, it gives us a confidence boost because we feel like we can overcome hardships. All these aspects contribute to a sense of progress toward the ideal self-image, which brings higher self-esteem.

4 What happens to the brain...

Exercising has numerous benefits for the brain, including increasing intelligence and memory. New brain cells are created by cardiovascular activity and improve general cognitive function. In addition, the hippocampus, the portion of the brain responsible for memory and learning, gets stronger. In turn, this results in preventing cognitive decline and memory loss. This is especially important when considering the aging illnesses of dementia and Alzheimer's. Physical activity has also been shown to improve creativity. If you're a creative person facing an idea-drought, you could just go for a run or a walk. Maybe you will make a breakthrough!

Colorful cubes on a black background showing the message “Train your brain” in letters and numbers. Caption:
Regular exercise has proven to reduce memory loss and improve cognitive function.

5 The social aspect of regular exercise...

Exercise can be a great way to meet new people and form new friendships. Physical activities can also be social activities, and there are numerous benefits of social support. It doesn't matter which option you choose! Whether you attend an exercise class at a gym or join a softball team, exercising with other people provides a double dosage of stress reduction. Overcoming physical hardship together can strengthen your bonds, and you can push each other to reach your goals. It's also good to have somebody keep you accountable. Having someone to make you get out of bed on a day when you'd skip out on exercise is amazing. And on the plus side, some friendly rivalry in the gym can be a great motivator!

Two smiling women working out together and high-fiving during a push-up.
Everything is easier with good company, so grab a friend and start your exercise!

6 Facing the music...

Physical activity can help you deal with mental or emotional difficulties in a healthy way. Rather than succumbing to alcohol or drugs, which only worsen your symptoms, you can face them head-on. For starters, the immune system and stress levels can improve and decrease with regular exercise. But also, physical activity will train your body and mind and help you manage everyday difficulties with much more ease.

Final words...

You can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise without spending hours at the gym. Five times a week, just 30 minutes of moderate exercise will be enough. What is more, you can divide a 30-minute workout into two 15-minute sessions if that is more convenient. What's important is that you make exercise work for you. For instance, see how you can best include training in your daily schedule. Next, try steering away from fast food and try meal-prepping instead. Making home-made food can also help you on your journey.


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