Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health, build muscles and of course, get a rocking and snatched body. Working out has above-the-neck benefits too. For the past decade or so, scientists have pondered how exercising can boost brain function. Regardless of age or fitness level, studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits and cost-effective treatment for depression, gaining self-confidence, getting out of a funk, and even thinking smarter.
Get inspired to exercise by reading up on these unexpected ways that working out can benefit mental health, relationships, and lead to an overall healthier and happier life.
- Reduce stress.
Rough day at the office? Take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress.
- Improve self-confidence.
Hop on the treadmill to look (and more importantly, feel) like a million bucks. On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Regardless of weight, size, gender, or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person’s perception of his or her attractiveness, that is, self-worth.
- Alleviate anxiety.
The warm and fuzzy chemicals that are released during and after exercise can help people with anxiety disorders calm down. Hopping on the track or treadmill for some moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety sensitivity.
- Boost brainpower.
Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance. Ready to apply for a Nobel Prize? Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning.
- Help control addiction.
The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, be that exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, or food. Unfortunately, some people become addicted to dopamine and dependent on the substances that produce it, like drugs or alcohol (and more rarely, food and sex). On the bright side, exercise can help in addiction recovery. Short exercise sessions can also effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts, making them de-prioritize cravings (at least in the short term). Working out when on the wagon has other benefits, too. Exercise can help reboot the body clock, helping people hit the hay at the right time.