While the benefits of regular exercise and physical activity for appearance and physical performance are well known, fewer people are aware of the fact that exercise can also help improve overall mental health and create a more positive outlook as well. So, if you’ve been contemplating being more physically active, it’s important to recognize that regular exercise can not only help you look better, it can help you feel better, too.
Here are six ways exercise can help improve your overall mental health and outlook:
- Exercise elevates the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neurotransmitter that can stimulate production of new brain cells. Both cardiorespiratory and strength training can help elevate levels of BDNF, which means that these forms of exercise not only help your muscles become stronger, they can boost your brain power, too.
- Performing different types of physical activity or learning how to do a new type of exercise can change how your brain is wired, which can help to improve your overall cognition and mental acuity. When you first start exercising and are learning how to perform new movement patterns, your brain and nervous system are figuring out the most effective way to communicate to perform the specific activity. As you become better at an activity, you are boosting the ability of your brain to connect the dots and activate the right muscles to help you perform the necessary movements. This helps improve how your brain functions, which has a direct result on your overall mental health. If you’ve been thinking about trying a new type of exercise such as yoga, Pilates or kettlebell training, it’s cool to know that it may help you get smarter as well as fitter.
- Exercise can help boost your self-esteem, which has a direct effect on your mental health. Learning how to nail that yoga pose, finally doing a pull-up with your own bodyweight or lifting a certain amount of weight can leave you with the feeling that you can achieve specific tasks that you set out to accomplish, which is the best way to boost self-esteem.
- How awesome do you feel after a good night’s sleep? Sleep is when your body repairs itself after the challenges of the day and is an important component of good mental health. A good night’s sleep is also critical for your brain to recharge and refresh, and regular exercise can enhance your quality of sleep, which can leave you feeling great all day long.
- In this non-stop world where you’re constantly being texted, emailed, tweeted and generally pulled in all directions, having the opportunity to take time out of your day to focus on you and your favorite activity can definitely help improve mental health. Time spent exercising is an opportunity to unplug from other people and listen to your favorite music or catch up on your favorite hobby via a podcast. This, in turn, can help you change how you feel and improve your overall outlook.
- Taking group fitness classes or simply being at a gym surrounded by other people working toward improving their health can help you connect with others, which is an important component of good mental health. If you’re new to an area or going through a major life change such as a break-up, your workout time can be the best opportunity for meeting new people and making new friends. Many fitness studios and group classes become mini-communities and are an excellent way to improve your real-life social network, which can have an immediate impact on your mental health.
Recent research strongly suggests that improved mental health is an important and often-overlooked outcome of regular exercise. It’s also important to note that you don’t need to pay for an expensive health membership or fitness classes to receive the mental health benefits of exercise. Check out this recent blog by the American Council on Exercise, which can help you identify ways to be more physically active. If you’ve been looking for a little extra motivation to get moving, know that exercise can help you feel better and improve your overall outlook on life.