How Exercise Benefits Brain & Mental Health

Pyramid Online Counseling      Mental Health  
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Full length of healthy woman exercising at home watching online video on laptop. Beautiful female in sports wear doing yoga.

The benefits of physical exercise reach far beyond the physical body. Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on both mental health as well as brain functionality.

How does exercise benefit mental health?

Although it may not seem like it, physical exercise plays a large role in our mental health. As little as 10 to 15 minutes of physical exercise has been found to improve mental health.

You may have friends who talk about the “high” they get from going on long runs, or how yoga makes them feel more clear headed and content. This is no coincidence.

Exercise can have the following mental health benefits:

  • Exercise can reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Exercise can help you feel like you are physically releasing stress from your body and lifting that weight off of your shoulders.
  • Exercise, ranging from light to intense, may be nearly as effective as other forms of treatment in reducing symptoms of depression.
  • Exercise classes, running clubs and hiking groups can build your social support system and help you form new relationships over shared interests.
  • Increased happiness has been found in individuals who regularly exercise because exercise produces endorphins, known as the happiness chemical.
  • Exercising can serve as a distraction during tough or stressful times. The bonus is that you are keeping yourself healthy, clearing your mind and decreasing your stress levels while you’re doing it.
  • It may seem counterintuitive, but exercise can give you more energy which makes you more prepared to take on the day. Exercise gets your blood pumping which benefits your cardiovascular health, so your energy levels will increase and you will feel better in general.
  • Establishing an exercise routine can help you create a routine in your daily life, which will make you feel more organized, less stressed and ready for anything that comes your way.
  • Finding a form of exercise that you truly enjoy can turn into you exploring a new favorite hobby. You will reframe exercise from something necessary that you hate doing to one of your favorite activities that you look forward to every day. Experiment with different types of exercise until you find one that you like and will stick with. Try these sports and activities to get you started: running, walking, swimming, yoga, weightlifting, team sports, dance, Pilates, CrossFit, rowing, stationary bikes, jump rope, rock climbing, hiking, boxing, tai chi, biking and kayaking.
  • Exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of ADHD, because exercise floods the brain with dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin; key neurotransmitters, lacking in those who have ADHD, that are responsible for pleasure, reward, attention and focus.

How does exercise improve brain functionality?

The brain is an incredibly complex organ that controls everything we think, feel, and do, and there is a lot we don’t yet understand about it. One thing we do know about the brain is that it can benefit immensely from physical exercise.

Exercise can benefit brain health in the following ways:

  • Exercise can promote the growth of new neurons, or information messengers, in the brain. This neurogenesis, especially in the hippocampus, is thought to provide the resources needed to calm the brain during periods of anxiety.
  • This neuroplasticity can also improve memory and potentially reduce brain shrinkage. This may mean that exercise can be associated with a decreased risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  • It increases the heart rate, which in turn gets the blood flowing and supplies the brain with more oxygen. Neurogenesis has been found in areas of the brain with more blood vessels as a result of exercise.
  • It can decrease the presence and production of cortisol, known as the stress hormone, which decreases feelings of stress.
  • Engaging in stimulating activities like exercise may strengthen the brain’s cognition and cognitive reserve, which protects the brain from negative brain changes and neurodegeneration. 
  • Exercise gives us endorphins, a chemical that makes us happy and reduces stress.

Pyramid Online Counseling can help you establish an exercise routine that works for you that also benefits your mental health and brain function. Reach out today at 833-525-3077.