C’mon, Get Happy! (through exercise)

We’re always hearing how running and other forms of exercise are good for your body. Your heart, lungs, muscles, tissue, tendons, bones, insides…you name it. Exercise keeps your entire body functioning on a healthy level. 

What we don’t always hear are the direct mental benefits exercise has. Here’s a list of 10 SWEET mental health benefits of exercising-some of them you may have heard of. Others, well, maybe not.

1) Stress relief. Tough day at the office? Kids driving you nuts? The in-laws are visiting? Bumps in a relationship? Head to the gym; take a walk or go for a jog. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is reducing stress. Exercise can increase concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the brain’s response to stress, helping you reduce stress and boost your body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension. 

2) Aids in soothing anxiety. Believe it or not, a 30 minute walk/jog is a more accurate anxiety reliever than a hot bubble bath. Aerobic exercise, especially intervals (moderate-to-high intensity), can reduce anxiety sensitivity.

3) Warm fuzzies. Happy chemicals. Natural high. Whatever you call it, exercise releases endorphins creating a feeling of euphoria. Studies have even shown that aerobic exercise can reduce symptoms for folks who are clinically depressed – doctors have prescribed gym time to their patients! Even if you’re just feeling a little blue, the happy buzz you get from a 30 minute workout can instantly boost your mood. 

4) Aid in addiction recovery. For real. Your brain releases dopamine or the “reward chemical” in any form of pleasure – food, sex, drugs, alcohol or exercise. An addiction to dopamine isn’t uncommon. The good news is that exercise can aid the recovery process by providing distractions from cravings, teaching control and determination, and re-channeling the body’s need of that “reward chemical” with something that provides the high without hurting the body.

5) Exercise boosts creativity. Odd? A heart-pumping workout can increase your creativity level for up to two hours. You can supercharge your post-workout inspiration by exercising outside and interacting with others and nature. Next time you hit a writers block or creativity wall, head out for a jog!

6) Get outside! Enjoy being outside – soak it all in. Exercise in the great outdoors can promote self confidence. If you’re tired of your usual run or bike ride, mix it up! Go for a hike, rock climb, canoe or kayak. Bring friends along with you. Pack some healthy snacks. You’ll also get some great vitamin-D from the sun which can lessen the likelihood of experiencing symptoms of depression. 

7) Sharpen your memory and boost your brian power. Regular exercise improves your ability to learn new things and studies show that intense workouts can increase the levels of a brain-derived protein (BDNF) which is believed to aid learning, decision making and higher thinking. So, be ready to win at a game of Memory or Go Fish! Studies have also shown that running sprints improved vocabulary retention among adults. This also means that it prevents cognitive decline. Even though you can’t prevent things like aging and Alzheimer’s, working out boosts chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus which is a huge part of the brain for memory and learning. 

8) Working out increases relaxation. Ever need a nap after a weight session or long run? Moderate workouts can be the equivalent of a sleeping pill. Moving around (exercising) 5 or 6 hours before you go to bed raises the core temperature of your body. A few hours later, when the body temp drops back down to normal, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep. 

9) You can get more done. Awesome, right? When you’re feeling uninspired, the solution might just be heading out for a walk or a jog. Research has shown that workers who take time for exercise on a regular basis (away from the cubicle) are more productive and have more energy than coworkers who don’t exercise. Get up and get moving! 

10) Inspire others and yourself. Find a running buddy. Take a friend to the gym with you. Get a group of people together for a pick-up soccer game, a zumba or yoga class. Studies show that most people perform better on aerobic tests when paired up with a buddy. Nobody wants to let their exercise buddy down and not show up or hold them back from getting the best workout possible. It’s even been proven that being on a team can actually raise athletes’ tolerance to pain. Inspire yourself; inspire others. Bring a friend along 🙂 

SO it’s time to get up, grab a friend, get moving and GET HAPPY!

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