5 Brilliant Boosts Your Brain Gets From Exercise
By Kierstin Mitchell – Group Exercise Coordinator, Virtua Center for HealthFitness
We all know that working up a sweat is good for your heart, bones, and muscles. But, what about the benefits of exercise that transcend the physical? Here are just a few of the ways a trip to the gym or a nice brisk walk can nourish your mind as well as your body.
Reduce stress and improve your mood
Moderate- to high-intensity exercise causes your body to release chemicals called endorphins. Simply put, endorphins make you happy. They can also reduce pain and have a sedative, or calming, effect. You’ll feel better able to handle the challenges of your day after 30 minutes of vigorous activity. Recent research has even suggested that exercise may even treat mild to moderate depression.
Increase your self-confidence
Feeling good about yourself after exercise isn’t just about looking in the mirror and liking what you see. Yes, with regular exercise your clothes will fit better, but you’ll also notice increased confidence in your ability to tackle everyday physical challenges.
One of my clients who’s been working with me 3 times a week just came back from her annual family trip to Disney World. She remarked that she didn’t truly realize how much she struggled walking and climbing stairs during past trips. She proudly told me that she rarely needed a break on this trip, and she knew it was because of her training.
Sharpen your memory and focus
Exercise that elevates your heart rate is going to boost blood flow to your brain, which is a key component of overall brain health. Countless studies have tested people before and after vigorous exercise and found significant improvements in cognitive functions such as short-term memory, reaction time, attention to detail, and even creative thinking. More recently, researchers have found that older adults who exercise regularly may very well have a decreased risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This is due to chemicals released during activity that have brain-protecting qualities.
Most doctors and scientists agree that unhealthy sleep patterns can cause the greatest harm to a person’s mental and emotional health. Regular exercise is shown to make it easier to fall and stay asleep, and to sleep more deeply. When you exhaust your body during exercise, you have a better sense of how much sleep you need to recover. Among many other benefits, a solid night’s sleep is good for reducing pain, curbing risky behaviors, and maintaining self-control.
Find new friends
There’s definitely a social aspect to going to the gym. If you don’t have an exercise buddy at the beginning, try a group class or a few sessions with a trainer.
Two of my female clients first met and became friends during my boot-camp class. Four years later, they’ve grown into a whole group of new friends who train together and spend time together, socially, outside the gym. It’s amazing to watch those friendships form. Companionship and healthy social supports are crucial to quality-of-life. They enhance your feeling of belonging to a community, so you end up happier and with a stronger sense of life purpose.
Updated October 28, 2019