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7 Ways Staying Fit Keeps You Mentally Healthy

An illustrated brain with a red headband staying mentally fit by running on a treadmill

Staying fit is good for your mental health and it’s easier than you think!

Key takeaways:

  • Exercise benefits more than your physical health

  • Working out can chase away anxiety, stress, and depression

  • The weight loss that comes with physical activity can also boost your self-image

  • Living an active life helps your brain grow more robust and increases the creation of new brain cells

The fact that exercise increases physical fitness is well-known, but the benefits to mental health aren’t quite as widespread. Here’s a big surprise: exercise makes you smarter and happier. It increases neurons in the brain and stimulates new brain cell growth.

Neurons are the information carriers of the human body. Neural networks run throughout the body and constantly change as you learn new concepts and ideas. Neuroplasticity is how brain cells talk to each other, and the connection between them grows stronger every time it happens.

Exercise is one of the most powerful forces behind this process. So, let’s take a look at seven effective ways that exercise can benefit your brain and how you can stay fit.

1. Exercise increases ”happy” hormones

Exercising fights off feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress. It improves your mood by changing the parts of the brain that regulate these troublesome feelings. Working out also increases the body’s sensitivity to serotonin and norepinephrine, two hormones that relieve feelings of depression.

The best part is that it doesn’t matter how hard you work out. Basically, exercise at any level of intensity positively affects your mood.

2. It promotes weight loss which can help improve self-image

Losing weight because of exercise is not a big surprise. The self-esteem you gain afterward can be, however. Inactivity is a major player in the weight gain game. The body uses energy to do three things:

  • Digest food

  • Maintain functions such as breathing and heart rate

  • Move

Dieting can decrease your metabolism and slow weight loss while exercise increases your metabolism and weight loss. This weight loss may in turn cause you to feel more positive about yourself.

3. It improves cognitive function

Exercise can improve the way your brain works. When you’re working out, your brain gets a boost of oxygen that helps make your thoughts clearer and more precise. Take note of how your thoughts progress after a workout; you may find that you are sharper, pay more attention to detail, and notice things in your environment that you haven’t before. It can even improve your reaction time.

4. It stimulates brain cell growth

Researchers have found that one of the most significant benefits of exercise is that it promotes neurogenesis, or the creation of new brain cells, in the hippocampus, a small part of the brain devoted to memory. Exercise also improves the function of the synapses between neurons in the brain, allowing brain cells to communicate better.

5. It prevents chronic disease

If you’ve ever experienced chronic pain, you know how mentally debilitating it can be, and a lack of exercise is a significant contributor. Exercising regularly increases insulin sensitivity, regulates body composition, and improves heart health, all of which are critical factors in fighting off chronic disease.

Because of this, exercise helps prevent or reduce chronic illnesses such as:

  • Hypertension – Weekly aerobic exercise drops resting systolic blood pressure 5–7 mmHg in those with hypertension.

  • Type 2 diabetes – Aerobic exercise can delay or even prevent Type 2 diabetes in some cases. Resistance training reduces fat mass, blood pressure, lean body mass, insulin resistance, and glycemic control for Type 2 diabetes patients. It also has considerable health benefits for Type 1 diabetes sufferers.

  • Heart disease – Working out twice a week reduces cardiovascular risks and is also a curative treatment for vascular disease.

  • Cancer – Exercise can help reduce the risk of several cancers, including breast, colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, lung, liver, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, thyroid, gastric, and esophageal cancer.

  • High cholesterol – Moderate physical activity raises good HDL cholesterol while balancing the increases in bad LDL cholesterol. High-intensity aerobic exercise can lower LDL levels instead of just balancing out the increases. Missing out on exercise for even a few days leads to more belly fat which is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

6. It fights Alzheimer’s and dementia

The more you work your brain, the stronger it gets. This is because exercise doesn’t just stimulate brain cell growth. It also boosts the development of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, which are both vulnerable to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

These diseases may occur with aging. Exercise can’t cure or prevent them, but it can delay the onset and reduce the severity of the symptoms.

7. It improves sleep quality

Regular workouts help induce deeper sleep and relaxation. You burn energy when you exercise which encourages restorative processes while you’re asleep. You also get hotter when you exercise. The cooling down process is another thing that induces a deeper and more restorative sleep. Studies show that moderate exercise and stretching help you get back to sleep faster and sleep longer.

You don’t have to become an Olympic-style athlete to enjoy the mental health benefits of exercise. A thirty-minute workout three or four times per week is all it takes to get these amazingly helpful mental perks. But, if that sounds like too much, start small and work your way up. As little as five minutes of daily activity can start the benefits rolling in. You’ll be surprised by how fast your mental health improves.

Love Discovery helps you pamper your mind and body

There are many reasons that staying physically fit is good for you. And, improving your mental health is pretty high on the list!

Feeling good about yourself and your relationships is challenging when you aren’t feeling your best mentally, though. The Love Discovery Institute concentrates on what people want most - love, physical intimacy, and healthy relationships. Our therapists understand relationships exceptionally well. We help people learn how to feel good about themselves and have profoundly meaningful and authentic connections.

If you’re ready to start therapy to help facilitate better mental health, make an appointment with any of our therapists today. Call 305.605.LOVE (5683).


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