Through the decades, research has shown that exercise has many physical benefits for the body. Countless studies have shown that regular exercise results in a healthy body weight, improved stamina, increased energy, and improved functioning of the joints and muscles.
About 20 years ago, reports started to appear that exercise also leads to improved mental health and the overall well-being of the individual. Individuals who exercised regularly stated that they felt mentally stable, were better able to concentrate, had a happier mood, and remained focused and motivated.
Today, exercise is widely advocated for improvements in mental health for both healthy individuals and individuals with medical illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, Parkinson disease, COPD and so on.
Over the past few years, many studies have concluded that there is a strong link between physical fitness and improvements in executive function and cognitive health. In fact, several studies have used imaging studies to show that exercise can boost the white matter in the brain and prevent atrophy of certain neurons that play a role in cognitive functions.
The benefits of exercise to the brain are both immediate and long term. Immediately after exercise, you will start to feel fresh, energetic, and rejuvenated. With time, exercise will not only improve cognitive performance but also lead to enhanced self-esteem and confidence. Exercise also helps attain better concentration, maintain focus and reverses the depressed mood.
So what type of exercise can you do to energize and refresh the brain?
Based on clinical reports, almost any exercise benefits the brain, even walking. However, this is not a one-shot deal and the exercise has to be performed regularly and consistently. For example, you can walk briskly for 30-45 minutes, 4-5 times a week, or swim, cycle, aerobics or perform workouts on gym equipment. The important thing is to be consistent and regular. To avoid boredom, you should incorporate a variety of exercises.
Who should exercise to gain the mental health benefits?
Exercise to boost mental health can be done by people of all ages. Even individuals who have health-related problems can benefit from exercise. There is ample research to show that patients who exercise tend to have a lower risk of dementia and improved cognitive scores until late in life. In addition, studies show that patients with diseases of the heart, lung, joints, muscle, etc., all tend to feel mentally better about themselves and feel invigorated. The mental health benefits of exercise persist into old age.
How does exercise improve brain health?
In general, exercise leads to better conditioning of the body, lowers the body weight, decreases body cholesterol and blood sugar and reduces blood pressure, all these physical benefits also translate into positive mental health. When individuals feel that they are looking better, they automatically start to feel better about themselves and develop more confidence. In addition, it is believed that exercise increases blood flow to the brain and causes a release of a variety of neurotransmitters, some of which increase the threshold for pain and others which make you feel happy, content and satisfied.
Finally, it is important to understand that in order to derive the positive mental benefits of exercise one also has to eat healthy, discontinue smoking, and limit the amount of alcohol. If you are showing signs of depression or anxiety, exercise could be just what you need to start feeling better, so try to incorporate movement into your daily life as often as you can, preferably most days of the week to feel the benefits.
Editor’s note: Kim Farmer of Mile High Fitness & Wellness offers in-home personal training and corporate fitness solutions. For more information, visit www.milehighfitness.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.