Physical health and mental health are inter-related, in that they work reciprocally. When we take care of our body, we take care of our mind.
Did you know that your exercising is not only doing wonders for your physical health but also your mental health?
Here are some of the many benefits of exercise on your mental health:
1. It makes you happier and helps manage stress!
Physical exercise contributes to self-care and improving the body’s ability to function. When our bodies function better, we are better able to manage our stress through the release of dopamine and endorphins, which help us to improve our mood. The increased blood flow and lowered stress can also aid in being more relaxed, less tense, and less stiff. When our mood is elevated, the impact of various stressors is less.
2. It helps sleep and improves long term mental health outcomes
As we have come to know, poor sleep quality is correlated with poorer life outcomes, so it isn’t a surprise that exercise helps with improving sleep quality. Exercise has been shown to decrease the onset of sleep, increase our duration of sleep, and increase self-reported restfulness.
Moreover, research has also found physical exercise to be beneficial in reducing symptoms of various mental health conditions. For example, one study saw a reduction in auditory hallucinations, increased self-esteem, improvement of sleep patterns, and general behaviours. The health benefits are not limited to those with mental illness, but are shown to be beneficial for all ages and individuals.
3. More brain power!
Regular exercise contributes to improvements in cognitive performance in areas such as memory, mathematics, and vocabulary retention, and is estimated can add up to two years to your life expectancy (Callaghan 2004). Exercise was found to aid in reducing degradation in the hippocampus, which aids in regulating emotions and memory in our brains. This is valuable to consider as the development of dementia is correlated with hippocampus dysfunction. As we age, intellectual stimulation is important in reducing the likelihood of the development of dementia. So exercise is a great addition to other mentally stimulating activities to maintain mental and physical health.
4. Increase self-efficacy
Behaviourism teaches that positive reinforcement is the addition of a stimulus that increases the rates of future behaviour. When we achieve our goals, we feel good about ourselves and are more likely to engage in the same behaviours. Thus, we can develop behaviour momentum and increase our self-efficacy, which is our belief that we can be successful at our task.
But remember to set S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) goals to make this process more manageable. This allows for us to make a quantifiable goal to measure progress and stay on track.
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Brand, S., Gerber, M., Beck, J., Hatzinger, M., Pühse, U., & Holsboer-Trachsler, E. (2010). High exercise levels are related to favorable sleep patterns and psychological functioning in adolescents: a comparison of athletes and controls. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(2), 133-141.
Callaghan, P. (2004). Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care? Journal of psychiatric and mental health nursing, 11(4), 476-483.
Intlekofer, K. A., & Cotman, C. W. (2013). Exercise counteracts declining hippocampal function in aging and Alzheimer's disease. Neurobiology of disease, 57, 47-55.