You probably already know that exercise is beneficial. Perhaps it’s one of those things that you know you “should” do more, but don’t seem to get it done. Exercise of course has many physical benefits such as keeping the heart healthy, increasing energy, and building muscle. However, most people don’t realize just how important exercise is for our mental health as well. Although we may spend most of our days working behind a desk or computer, humans evolved to be up and about while we hunt for food and move from place to place. We’re not meant to sit completely still as we do, and this is reflected in the way the brain responds to exercise.
When we say “exercise,” we don’t necessarily mean a full-on marathon run or CrossFit® workout. We can get some exercise in by just getting up and moving. You can go for a short walk, take a break from your job to get up and do a few jumping jacks, or set a goal of a certain amount of steps per day. Exercise can be more approachable than we often make it out to be. Here are a few ways that exercise can impact your brain, wellness, and mental health disorders.
This may seem a bit silly because the last thing you feel like doing is exercising when experiencing depression. That being said, it’s one of the best things you can do. Again, this doesn’t need to be some power exercise. Going for a simple walk can be effective. A meta analysis found that depression symptoms are reduced by regular exercise, even if it is small amounts of exercise. This means taking a walk regularly can greatly help those experiencing depression and help lower your risk of depression.
It may not come as a surprise that exercise can reduce anxiety as well. Another meta analysis found the both acute and chronic exercise can reduce anxiety. Whether you’re experiencing an anxiety disorder or moments of unpleasant worry, exercise can help. Exercise can be a form of meditation, allowing us to release energy and be in the moment. Unlike depression, anxiety may actually make us want to exercise. If you’re feeling anxious, try getting up and taking a walk down the street or around the block for a few minutes!
Insomnia may go along with depression and anxiety, or you may be experiencing insomnia by itself. Whichever the case, exercise can help you here! According to the National Sleep Foundation, exercise has been shown to help people fall asleep faster and sleep better through the night. If you’re not sleeping well, it may be difficult to exercise. The cycle created by insomnia is brutal, but with the right effort, you can begin exercising in little ways. Start by taking a walk during your day and move on to exercising a little bit more.
Learning & Memory
Exercise also has the added benefit of increasing our ability to learn new things and retain them with our memories. Harvard Health published a piece recently about the benefits of exercise in the health of our brains. When we exercise, we actually change the structure of the brain and the way the chemicals are transmitted. Exercise stimulates growth chemicals, reduces inflammation, and helps promote healthy insulin production, all leading to a healthier and more productive brain.
In addition to these specific ways in which exercise can benefit us, it can serve to help our general happiness. A 2013 study found that exercise can increase a person’s mood for up to twelve hours. Regular exercise can increase the stability of our mood and elevate our energy and happiness. You don’t need to do anything crazy. Exercise is healthy for you across the board. Start where you can, with small moments and small movements.
This post comes to us from 7 Second Man, a powerful duo offering coaching, lifestyle tips, and the opportunity for individuals to learn to build healthy habits.