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Mental Health & Exercise

You may notice that after a workout you feel better than when you started. You have a nice muscle pump, your adrenaline is high, and you have a good sense of your strength. Do you ever notice that during the workout, you aren't thinking about the issues or concerns of life that usually run through your mind? Or do you notice how when you leave the gym, you have an improved mental state from when you arrived?

There may be more to the story when it comes to the benefits of physical activity. There are, in fact, chemical changes in the brain that occur during physical activity that affect how you think and feel. The physical benefits of exercise are well documented -- the strengthening of muscles, bones, and the heart; the improved ability to accomplish daily activities; improved physical performance. Studies show that there are also many mental benefits to exercise.

This article will discuss the many mental benefits associated with physical activity.

Regular exercise can help improve your mental well being in a variety of ways, such as reducing stress, improving mood, improving quality and length of sleep, giving you a motivated mindset, raising self-esteem, increasing confidence, and even contributing to increased mental clarity.

Let’s discuss each of these mental health factors and how physical activity can improve them.

Exercise Reduces Stress

During exercise, a part of the brain called the hypothalamus releases endorphins as a response to stress in order to lower our perception of pain.

The release of endorphins can also be associated with the popular phrase “runners high,” and running is not the only way to achieve the feeling. Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga to power lifting, can act as an endorphin release and therefore a stress reliever.

Exercise allows an individual to shift their attention away from stressors towards the physical activity being performed. Stepping away from the stressor to perform exercise can even help provide a different perspective on how to respond to the stressor.

Exercise Improves Your Mood

Before exercising, you may feel tired, sore, or unmotivated. But as you begin your workout, you may begin to notice your heart rate increasing. As the blood in your body begins to circulate at a higher rate, your adrenaline starts flowing, your muscles relax, and as a result, you become more alert, have more energy, feel less soreness, and you stop overthinking.

It is a great feeling to walk out of a workout knowing that you have accomplished something important for your health.

Yoga poses and stretching have a calming effect on the nervous system. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which can help relieve depression.

Exercise Leads to Better Sleep

Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., Medical Director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital states, “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality.”

It’s good to get, up and contract and stretch muscles, and put your body through tough tasks that will make your daily routine easier. Afterwards you will feel relaxed, Your muscles will be exhausted, and when it is bedtime, your body will want to rest, resulting in better sleep.

Exercise Can Improve Your Mindset, Building Self-Esteem & Confidence

Making the decision to improve your health is not easy, but it is a great decision that can lead to better overall decision making.

When you make a decision to workout, it is a choice that you make to improve your health. This goal-oriented positive choice is one step towards improving your mindset to achieve other goals. For example, you are less likely to snack following dinner and throughout the day.

Once you have achieved the difficult task of putting yourself through a challenging workout, other tasks that seemed arduous may be viewed as easier to accomplish.

Physical and mental health go hand in hand. When you look better, you feel better. And when you feel better, you are more likely to engage in positively reinforced activities. Having a greater sense of purpose and craving feelings of reward and accomplishment are invaluable traits that can be brought about with exercise.

Exercise Can Give You Mental Clarity

Many brain regions benefit greatly after being exposed to bouts of strenuous exercise. Chemicals such as HGH (human growth hormone) which is released during exercise can affect the creation and growth of blood vessels. Because of this increased flow of oxygen, your mind becomes clearer. Also, when your body gets tired, your mind works at a higher efficiency causing you to think about things from other perspectives. When faced with a problem, get moving and you might return with the solution. If not, at least you accomplished something.

Making the decision to exercise is a great stepping stone to the path of physical, mental, spiritual and emotional development. It is not easy, but that’s the point. Nothing that you do throughout your day will be more difficult than what you accomplished by talking yourself through physical exhaustion. Exercise opens your mind up to understanding what is possible when you put your focus into accomplishing a task. If you can handle it, then you can handle anything.

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