5 Ways Fitness Helps Your Mental Health

weight resistance machine

It’s not uncommon for individuals to claim: “Working out is my time to get out of my head!” While that is a great feeling, it hints at the fact you are helping far more than your physical body when you step on the treadmill or grab that set of hand weights. The connection between body and mind is a strong one, according to the American Psychological Association. By mastering your moves, you in effect improve your mind. Handy, huh? We want you to get the most bang for your buck—or time and energy—and working out does just that! Learn here how moderate daily exercise makes an invaluable impact on your mental health.

1. Fitness Helps Relieve Stress

Unfortunately, stress is inevitable. And when you’re stressed it effects more than just your brain. The brain is the center for many nerve connections that communicate with the rest of the body. If your body feels good moving (which is likely does because physical activity produces feel-good chemicals) your mind is bound to feel good too. So whether you’re exploring a deeper meditative state in your yoga practice or taking out some aggression on a punching bag, you’re working out your brain as well as your muscles. I’ve heard time and time again from marathon finishers that the act of running a marathon requires as much mental strength as it does physical ability. This “mental exercise,” let’s call it, is believed to not only allow temporary relief, but toughen up the brain so that future stress has less of an effect on the body. Think of it as building up your mental endurance.

2. Fitness May Lead to Improved Cognitive Function

Young or old, the results are similar: Moderate exercise has an impact on the brain by preventing cognitive decline. If you’ve personally struggled with memory or the ability to focus on multiple tasks simultaneously, the solution may be as simple as lacing up your tennis shoes. Exercise is very likely one of the most manageable and most cost-effective ways to improve cognitive function.

3. Fitness Boosts Your Sense of Accomplishment

Whether you’re running your first mile or finishing a marathon, there is most certainly a sense of accomplishment that accompanies every athletic feat. And let’s face it, that makes you feel damn good and improves your self-esteem. Being accountable for your fitness regimen may also provide you with a sense of purpose, which further supports your mental health.

4. Fitness Makes You Feel Happy

You know that invincible feeling that you get after a good workout? There’s a reason for it post-sweat. You’re producing serotonin and norepinephrine. Those are awfully big words, so all you need to know is that these chemicals increase in production with exercise and send feel-good messages to the brain. Think of them as your personal cheerleaders!

5. Fitness May Relieve Depression

We already know that exercising releases feel-good chemicals and may give you a surprising bout of confidence, but its effects on depressive symptoms are innumerable. Exercise reduces anxiety, improves overall mood, and provides an opportunity for social interaction—not to mention, a challenging or fun workout will likely take your mind away from the things causing anxiety. Remaining motivated when in a mental health crisis can be hard though, so find a friend to hold you accountable.

Sources: Physical Activity Reduces Stress – Anxiety and Depression Association of America Depression and Anxiety: Exercise Eases Symptoms – Mayo Clinic | The Exercise Effect – American Psychological Association | Exercise Holds Immediate Benefits for Affect and Cognition in Younger and Older Adults – National Institutes of Health | Why Endorphins (and Exercise) Make You Happy – CNN

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Carly Sippel is a registered yoga teacher, certified life coach, and nutrition nut. She has a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Dietetics from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She turns her passion into practice, promoting healthy bodies in both her personal and professional life.