We all know that working out is a great way to keep our bodies fit and healthy. But did you know that exercise is just as important for the health of our minds?
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and we’re celebrating the incredible power of exercise to keep us fit in mind as well as in body.
And the benefits are endless. Exercise can make you happier, more positive, cleverer and even sexier. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to sweat yourself happy.
1. Get happy
Exercise can help people suffering from depression, anxiety and stress. In fact, for people with mild depression, exercise can be as effective as taking antidepressant drugs. Some GPs are even prescribing workouts to patients with low mood.
And if you’re feeling stressed, hitting the gym could well be your best cure. Exercise can be a great way to sweat your cares out of your system. Hacked off at work? Try boxing out your frustration or beating your 5K personal best. A workout will make you feel better and help you think more clearly about your problems.
In fact, exercise has the power to make us all feel happier. Working out takes our minds away from negative thoughts and gives us a positive focus. It also appears to affect levels of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins in the brain – hormones which regulate mood and can make us feel brighter, more positive and more alert.
2. Be positive
Until the last century or so we all had to burn energy just to get on with life. It’s only in recent years that we’ve started spending most of our time sitting on our bums. This is probably why exercise makes us feel good and lounging around makes us feel lousy. And it’s easy to get stuck in couch-potato-land – the more we lounge, the less we want to do; and the worse we feel, the more we lounge.
Taking up exercise gives you an opportunity to break that cycle and get some positive activity into your life. It will get you out of the daily grind. You’ll meet new friends, take a break from work, family life, the pub – whatever rut you feel stuck in – and give yourself some much needed me-time.
Give yourself even more of a boost with some outdoor sports – you’ll get the chance to soak up some happiness-inducing Vitamin D and enjoy the beauty of nature.
3. Boost your self esteem
It may seem obvious that exercise is a great booster of self esteem. Who wouldn’t feel better for losing a few pounds, toning up their wobbly bits or sculpting some killer abs?
But exercise helps with your self esteem in other ways too. Striving toward and achieving a fitness goal is incredibly empowering. Pushing yourself beyond your known limits proves you can do whatever you put your mind and body towards. And getting physically stronger and fitter increases your inner strength as well.
Getting fit also makes everyday activities easier. Whether it’s running for the bus, lugging the shopping home or playing footie with the kids, getting in shape makes life a whole lot easier. And that’s bound to make us feel better about ourselves too.
4. Feel sexy
Depression, stress and anxiety can have a direct hit on your sex life. Indeed, our libidos are closely linked to mood, self-esteem and energy levels. Unfortunately, antidepressants can make the problem worse – decreased sex drive is a common side effect of these drugs.
But there’s good news: if you feel like you’ve lost your mojo in the bedroom department, exercise can help you here as well. In fact, getting hot and sweaty in the gym can work wonders for all of our love lives.
Getting fit will make you feel happier, hotter and a whole lot sexier. And research shows that women in particular can benefit from moderate exercise, which works as a powerful aphrodisiac, boosting female sexual arousal. And as sex is one of nature’s more enjoyable fat burners, it’s a win-win situation!
5. Keep your brain healthy
As well as having a beneficial effect on mood and mental health, exercise has the power to improve the health of our brains. Working out stimulates important chemicals that grow new brain cells, slow down the brain ageing process and boost our memories.
Ageing and degenerative diseases like Alzheimers cause our brains to shrink as nerve and brain cells die off. Physical activity seems to protect our brains, reducing this shrinking process and preserving brain mass.
Getting sweaty in the gym also increases levels of proteins called BDNFs (brain derived neurotrophic factors), which actually encourage new brain cells to grow – keeping your memory healthy.
7. Improve your sleep
According to the Mental Health Foundation, sleep is as important to our bodies and brains as food, water and oxygen. When we sleep, our bodies and brains repair themselves and we can process information and memories. Lack of sleep is linked to depression and anxiety, which can, in turn, leave us sleepless.
Exercise is a great way to reset your body’s clock. Regular aerobic exercise improves sleep quality and can help you to sleep longer. A 2013 study showed that four 30-minute sessions a week can result in an extra 45 minutes’ sleep a night.
But if you do need help getting to sleep, it’s best to do your exercise earlier in the day rather than late in the evening. Working out temporarily increases your adrenaline levels, which will keep you awake until they settle down again a few hours after you have finished exercising.
The mental health benefits of exercise are clearly very convincing. But it can be very difficult to contemplate any physical activity when you’re feeling low, exhausted or super-stressed.
Our advice is to try to exercise even when you don’t feel like it – in fact, especially when you don’t feel like it. If you’re lacking energy, exercise will give you a boost. If you’re stressed, it will calm you down. If you’re feeling low, it will lift you up.
So go for it – sweat yourself happy!