By Kristen Fritz
Spring has arrived: flowers are blooming, birds are chirping and warmer weather is on its way (or at least we hope so…). Now is the perfect time to become proactive and begin to think about your physical health and fitness. Not only is exercise good for the body, it’s also good for the mind. Participating in exercise can help reduce stress as well as improve overall mental health benefits. So what better way to start than by hitting the gym or pavement, getting some fresh air outdoors and being on your way to a better and healthier you?
The following can benefit mental health, relationships and lead to a healthier and happier life overall.
Reduce stress. Take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress.
- Boost happy chemicals. Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, doctors recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time.
- Improve self-confidence. Hop on the treadmill to look (and more importantly, feel) like a million bucks. On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Regardless of weight, size, gender or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person's perception of his or her attractiveness, that is, self-worth.
- Boost brainpower. Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance.
- Help control addiction. The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, and exercise can help in addiction recovery. Short exercise sessions can also effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts, making them de-prioritize cravings (at least in the short term). Working out when on the wagon has other benefits, too. Alcohol abuse disrupts many body processes, including circadian rhythms.