Most people can list off reasons that exercise is good for their physical health because they have recently been to a doctor or they paid attention to high school health. When it comes to mental health, there are not as many readily available statistics to spout off. We know if feels good to achieve a certain weight of fit into the ole “skinny pants,” but what else is going on in the brain that makes us feel better. Below are a few other motivating reasons to get up and do something in order to maintain mental health and combat chronic mental illness.
- Improved mood – As Reese Witherspoon’s character in Legally Blonde reminds us, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” Endorphins are natural mood boosters that enhance feelings of optimism and satisfaction while fighting off pain and stress.
- Better sleep – According to a 2016 Journal of Neuroscience study, exercise increases the length of time you spend in deep sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase as well as lowering the risk of insomnia.
- Brain regeneration – According to experimental studies, exercise has been shown to exert a protective effect against cognitive deterioration and improve signaling pathways related to brain plasticity. New neurons are produced in physical activity to create new pathways involved in memory flexibility, emotion regulation, and processing of new information.
- Lowers anxiety – Reduction of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) can occur from exercise and may help improve one’s sense of well-being. Exercise can also help reduce tightness and tension held throughout the body.
- Decreases depression – Dr. Miller at Harvard Medical school says that like antidepressants, exercise is also an effective treatment modality. Neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood— is smaller in people who are depressed. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression.