Reaping all of the brain benefits of exercise

Red Deer’s Jack Wheeler talks of the importance of mental health

Today we talk about exercise for your mental health, not just your physical health.

It’s normal to think of exercise as being good for weight loss, heart health, and lowering blood pressure. But what many people fail to remember is the powerful, positive effect exercise has on improving mental health. Who couldn’t use a little extra help managing stress, relieving depression, coping with anxiety, or improving their mood? In times of a mental health crisis, exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing, but just a little physical activity can go a long in improving your mental state.

Working out burns calories and builds muscle, while also producing positive changes in the way the brain functions. Physical activity makes your heart pump more blood to all areas of the body. This means more oxygen-rich blood and nutrients reach the brain to form new brain cells and neuron connections and help reduce inflammation that causes disease. An increase in body temperature also has a calming effect.

Read on to learn what exercise can do for you.

Cut anxiety. Maybe you worry a lot or perhaps you’re one of the millions who suffer from a diagnosed anxiety disorder. Whether you deal with generalized anxiety, social anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsiveness, or post-traumatic stress, exercise has been shown as an effective way of reducing symptoms and coping with the negative side effects caused by anxiety.

In many cases, medication and counseling are required for treatment, but it’s a good idea to add in regular exercise for faster relief. Exercise is a proven way to manage tension and stress, it distracts you from the worries on your mind, and it boosts your energy. The endorphins released during exercise work to help you relax and improve your mood. When your adrenaline is pumping out of control and making you feel uptight and on edge, exercise is a wonderful way to burn it off.

Depression drop. When you’re feeling sad, blue, and hopeless, don’t stay in bed or eat a box of donuts. Instead, get up and go for a run. Why? Because exercise is one of the best ways to snap out of depression. In fact, exercise can be as effective as medication in treating mild to moderate depression.

The endorphins your body produces during exercise improve your outlook on life, the extra activity helps you sleep better, and getting in shape boosts your confidence.

Getting out of the house to work out is a great distraction from your negative thoughts and a way to connect with others to relieve feelings of loneliness.

Lowered stress. What stresses you out? An argument with your spouse, financial troubles, traffic? At the end of a stressful day, one of the best ways to relieve tension is with a good workout. Instead of letting the stress build up to cause anxiety, physical health problems, or insomnia, manage your stress level by exercising on a regular basis.

An elevated heart rate leads to an increase in chemicals that counter the negative effects of stress hormones on your brain and improves the way your nervous systems communicate so you’re better able to cope with stress in the future.

Exercise also helps relieve muscle tension caused by stress. Your mind and body are connected so when your physical health is good, your mental health should improve as well.

And you thought exercise only did the body good.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and the owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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