When we think of the benefits of physical activity, we usually think of building strength, building cardiovascular health, and of course, losing weight. However, physical activity is associated with several benefits to mental health. Physical activity releases important neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin), it helps normalize sleep, and helps us focus and gain a sense of accomplishment. At least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise, 3 times a week has related to improved mental health.
Mental Health Benefits:
- Physical activity is great at fighting the blues. People who exercise regularly are less depressed than people who are inactive. Furthermore, when depressed people exercise they often see improvements in mood.
- Physical activity is great for relieving stress. Exercise leads the brain to release norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the effect of stress.
- Physical activity releases endorphins, which lead to feelings of happiness and euphoria.
- Physical activity sharpens physical activity and learning. Regular exercise increases the production of cells in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory.
- It also helps us get a good night’s sleep. A moderate workout 5 to 6 hours before bedtime raises the body’s core temperature. As the body’s core temperature gradually lowers, it signals to the body that it is time to sleep.
- Too busy to join a gym? Go for brief and brisk walk in your neighborhood or at a nearby park. Bring your earphones and listen to music, an audiobook, or your favorite podcast (e.g. the Psych Rally podcast).
- Dealing with chronic pain? Try making trips to the pool a regular part of your health regimen. You can swim laps or even walk or move your body in the shallow end to loosen up aching muscles.
- Have you been meaning to try something new? Try taking a yoga class, a dance class, or peruse this list of “No-Gym Workouts” to find something that interests you.
Whether your exercise routine involves strength training, aerobic exercise, or simply engaging in you favorite activities more frequently, living an active lifestyle improves your mental and physical health.
Author Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He works in the Torrance office and is available for a free initial phone consultation.