As individuals, we often overlook exercise, not prioritising it because something else is always more important. Over the years, as your body ages, so does the mind, even though the latter is not very visible. Be it lower concentration levels or poor memory, unwell minds manifest in various shapes and habits. Moreover, the unhealthy levels of stress we often face as adults in this world also exacerbate the degradation of our mind. However, you can kill two birds with one stone by exercising. You can not only hone your physicality but also improve your mental performance by working out on a regular basis.
Why is exercise good for mental health?
Exercise benefits the brain in multiple ways, including altering the brain chemistry and even its structure. Research spanning space and time has concluded that exercise promotes neural function, comprehensively improving your mental health:
Increased Blood Flow: Exercise promotes better blood circulation throughout the body, including to the brain. Improved blood flow ensures that the brain receives a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients, which are essential for optimal function.
Mood Enhancement: You must have heard of the runner’s high. It's basically caused by a burst of feel-good endorphins in the brain. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These chemicals play a crucial role in mood regulation, stress management, and overall mental well-being.
Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF): Exercise increases the production of BDNF, a protein that supports the growth, survival, and differentiation of neurons. Higher levels of BDNF indicate improved cognitive function and a reduced risk of disorders like Alzheimerr’s and dementia.
Neurogenesis: Exercise has been linked to the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, a region of the brain important for learning and memory. This process, known as neurogenesis, can enhance your cognitive flexibility and learning capacity.
Improved Sleep: Exercise does wonders for your circadian rhythm. Regular exercise can contribute to better sleep quality and duration. Sleep is crucial for memory consolidation, cognitive function, and overall brain health.
Mind-Body Connections: Research has found that there are interesting ways in which the mind is connected to the body. For instance, long-term exercise has been linked to structural changes in the brain, including increased ‘grey matter’ volume in areas related to memory and executive function.
Although we may not fully understand exactly how it works, it is easy to infer that exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve your brain function and overall happiness.
Which exercises improve mental health?
Getting down to the nitty-gritties, let us explore which exercises are the best and most efficient at improving your mental health:
Aerobic Exercise: Cardio makes the heart go…and the brain too, it turns out. Activities that elevate your heart rate and increase oxygen flow to the body and brain, such as brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, and dancing, improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Strength Training: Resistance training, such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises, not only benefits physical health but can also positively affect mental well-being. It may help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, but the proof is in the pudding.
Yoga: Yoga has long been associated with mental peace and harmony, and for a good reason, Combining physical postures, breath control, and meditation, yoga is known for its stress-reducing and relaxation benefits. It has been shown to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and enhance overall mental health.
Tai Chi: This gentle and slow-moving martial art focuses on controlled movements and deep breathing. Tai Chi has been associated with reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression, and it promotes a sense of calm and balance.
Dance: Dancing is not only a fun and enjoyable form of exercise but also a great way to express your emotions. Through all the fun that it makes you feel, dancing can elevate mood, reduce stress, and improve mental well-being.
Outdoor Activities: You are at your best when you are surrounded by Mother Nature. Exercising in nature, whether it's hiking, jogging, or simply taking a walk in a park, has been associated with increased feelings of well-being and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Group Exercise Classes: Humans are social creatures and if we must work together, why not workout together? Participating in group activities, such as fitness classes or team sports, provides social interaction and support, which can have positive effects on mental health. The social aspect can also contribute to a sense of community and belonging.
Working out for wisdom: Practising exercise for mental health
If you are looking for an effective way to address your physical and mental health and ace both of them in one go, you must begin your fitness journey at the earliest. Whether you want to shed pounds or gain new skills, you can easily optimise your results by working out. Make sure that once you begin exercising, you keep at it and prioritise it regularly. For a more holistic approach, make sure to include cardio, weight-lifting, and yoga or tai chi in your exercise routine to keep it dynamic and engaging. Finally, be sure to get the right amount of sleep and the right kind of nutrition to become your absolutely most magnificent self!