Updated: May 13
Most people are aware of the physical benefits of exercise, such as weight loss, increased strength, and improved cardiovascular health. However, many people may not realize that exercise also has a significant impact on mental health. In fact, regular physical activity has been shown to have a number of positive effects on mental health and cognitive function. Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, stress, depression, and negative mood by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Let’s look at the impact of exercise on mental health:
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Exercise has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels in both the short and long term. It increases the production of endorphins, which is a “feel good” chemical produced by the brain, and decreases the levels of cortisol, a hormone that is associated with stress. Stress-induced brain trauma can be repaired by the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine which improves mood and cognitive function. This can lead to an overall improvement in mood and a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise as simple as going for a 30-minute walk 3 times a week can improve depression, and anxiety, and reduce stress.
Improves Cognitive Function
Physical activity has been shown to improve cognitive function in a number of ways. It can improve memory, attention, and processing speed, as well as reduce the risk of cognitive decline as we age. There have been studies over the year that have suggested that active people have had better memories overall compared to those who were sedentary. Another advantage of exercise is that it can also help fortify us against future memory problems and mental decline seen in diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s. Lastly, as we age, we also lose our ability to recall spatial memory (remembering where an object is located) and spatial awareness (awareness of our body’s position in space), exercise has been shown to improve both. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which can improve the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to brain cells, and it also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and connections.
Regular exercise can boost self-confidence and self-esteem. When we exercise, we set goals and achieve them, which can give us a sense of accomplishment and pride. Additionally, exercise can improve body image and help us feel more comfortable in our own skin, which can improve our overall sense of self-worth. Sometimes our self-esteem issues and lack of confidence are connected to how we perceive our body. Regularly exercising can improve your body image and improve your confidence as you achieve your physical goals. The action of goal setting can rewire our brains as we are programming our brains with new, healthier behaviors, to achieve those goals. Your brain releases Dopamine which is the “reward” chemical, making you more likely to feel confident in your achievements.
Enhances Sleep Quality
Exercise can also improve sleep quality, which is important for overall mental health and well-being. It can help us fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and achieve deeper, more restful sleep. Exercise has been shown to regulate your circadian rhythm which is our body's built-in clock. Research suggests that consistent physical activity can reduce daytime sleepiness, helping you feel more productive, and less moody, and reducing negative behaviors associated with sleep deprivation such as over-eating. This can lead to improved mood, cognitive function, and overall physical health.
Improves Brain Health
Regular exercise has been shown to improve brain health and reduce the risk of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. It can improve the function of the brain's executive functions, which are responsible for decision-making, problem-solving, and planning. Our cognition such as thinking and remembering is supported by connected brain cells called neural networks. The brain has been shown to rewire its physical structure in a process called neuroplasticity. Some of the drivers of promoting neuroplasticity have been shown to be exercise. This is because the brain’s hippocampus seems to be sensitive to the beneficial effects of exercise. Additionally, exercise can increase the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth and survival of brain cells.
In conclusion, regular physical activity has a number of positive effects on the mind. It can reduce stress and anxiety, improve cognitive function, boost self-confidence, enhance sleep quality, and improve brain health. Exercise has been shown to improve neuroplasticity in the brain and support many hormones associated with brain cognition and mood. To get the most out of the mental health benefits of exercise, it's important to engage in regular physical activity and incorporate a variety of activities into your routine. The best regimen is one that includes some form of resistance training combined with cardiovascular exercise. The benefits of physical activity can be seen immediately after 1 workout, with our body’s release of endorphins to improve mood and dopamine to reward your efforts.
Before starting any fitness program or making dietary changes, including supplementation, please consult your physician for a thorough examination.