Everyone knows about the great physical benefits of exercise, but not so many people know about the psychological benefits to it as well. Did you know that a 20 minute jog relieves anxiety more than a nice warm bubble bath? Or that you’re the most creative after a workout? In this post I’ll show you the amazing mental benefits you gain by exercising, they’re so great that you might start doing jumping jacks before you finish!
Exercise makes you happier! 🙂
When you go out and break a sweat, your body actually releases endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that help block pain and increase pleasure. They induce a feeling of happiness, but in this case they also trigger the release of sex-hormones, like norepinephrine. These sex hormones create a better sense of well-being and improve mood. They simply make you happier!
Many other chemicals, such as dopamine, are released when you exercise. Dopamine, often called the “reward chemical,” does many things for us. Dopamine gives us a reward feeling. It’s often released during sex and when we eat good food, and when we exercise it’s like our body giving us a cookie for doing something good.
Exercise decreases our stress levels by burning cortisol, a stress hormone. When we stress a lot our cortisol levels rise but when we go out and sweat we lower them. This greatly decreases the amount of stress we feel. A happy life is not a stressful life!
Exercising improves BRAIN FUNCTION!
As we age our brains, unfortunately, shrink. Doctors have always said that engaging in mental activities like doing crossword puzzles, learning a new language, or playing board games increases our brain function, however a new study says physical activity works better:
“People in their seventies who participated in more physical exercise, including walking several times a week, had less brain shrinkage and other signs of aging in the brain than those who were less physically active, on the other hand, our study showed no real benefit to participating in mentally and socially stimulating activities on brain size, as seen on MRI scans, over the three-year time frame.” ~Alan J. Gow, PhD, University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
This study had 638 participants aged 70 years. The volunteers filled out questionnaires asking about their exercise habits and how often they participated in engaging social and mental activities. There were a lot of different types of exercises within the group. Some of the volunteers only did household chores while some were on competitive sports teams that played multiple times a week.
At the end of three years everyone in the study was scanned with an MRI to see how much of a difference the physical activity affected their brain size. The scans showed that those who had exercised the most had the largest brains, and had more white matter in their brains, than those who exercised less.
Another study done by Kirk Erickson, showed that walking for 30-45 minutes, three times a week, increased the size of participants’ hippocampus after a year. The hippocampus is a region in the brain involved with memory.
The same results were also shown in kids in a different study. 49 kids, some physically fit and some who weren’t, were scanned with an MRI machine.
The kids who were in good shape had a 12% larger hippocampus than their peers. They also did better on memory tests.
“Previous studies in older adults and in animals have shown that exercise can increase the size of the hippocampus. A bigger hippocampus is associated with better performance on spatial reasoning and other cognitive tasks.” ~Diana Yates
Go ahead, exercise!
Now that you’ve read about all the great psychological benefits of exercise, you probably want to know how you can reap them. Well here are some ways!
1. Go for a walk! All it takes is 20 minutes of walking or aerobic exercise a couple days a week! You can go for a hike or go swimming! It’s that easy!
2. Do jumping jacks!
3. Clean! I know no one likes to, but you can make it fun with some music!
4. Speaking of music, DANCE!
If you need more ways that are super fun, look here for ways to exercise without realizing it, here to exercise withour going to the gym, or here for 101 fun ways to do it!
To learn more about the benefits of exercise click on one of these: 13 Unexpected Benefits of Exercise, control stress with exercise, or The Benefits of Exercise.
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All photos from flickr.com.
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