Exercise for Mental Health

If you are reading this that you are probably well aware of the benefits of regular exercise. Whether your goal being to improve fitness, stimulate fat-loss or simply increase muscle mass, training with weights are an important part of your road to success. As I have shown in previous posts, moderate intensity exercise such as core workouts or weight routines are essential for keeping the body healthy, especially in later life. However, one benefit of exercising often overlooked is its effect on your mental health and wellbeing. Indeed, a workout will help you both physically and psychologically.

Mental Wellbeing and Happiness

At a basic level, the key to happiness is the combined effect of both Pleasure and Purpose (see Happiness by Design: Paul Dolan). Exercise will satisfy both elements very well.

When we exercise, particularly during high-intensity workouts, our body releases a chemical called Endorphin. Endorphins induce a feeling of pleasure, similar to the effect that morphine on reducing pain. Hence the often heard phrase ‘runners high’. I get that same feeling of elation when I have finished a high-intensity gym workout; indeed I crave that feeling when away from the gym for a while.

The sense of purpose is satisfied through the seeking and achieving of goals. For many, the primary reason to exercise may not be for the feeling of elation per se, but more to address a specific purpose. Your reasons will be personal to you, whether it be to lose weight, get fitter or improve strength. Regardless of your goal, at its core it is the journey to self-improvement and that sense of achievement that gets us out of bed in the morning.

Keeping the brain young

Exercise physically helps the brain also.

Many Studies have shown that exercise can help to protect our memory as we age, where we know that normal immune function declines. The effect of age often leads to greater inflammation in the brain which in turn increases the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Multiple Sclerosis. Through regular exercise we stimulate the immune cells in the brain (microglia) used to clear neuro-inflammation. Thus avoiding loss of brain volume and preventing shrinkage of specific brain regions associated with memory.

There is much evidence to suggest that regular, moderate exercise is the optimal way to protect to the brain in later life.

In summary, the health benefits of regular exercise are far more than just keeping the body fit or losing weight. They can also help to keep the mind fit and healthy too. Hopefully this article has given you some ‘food for thought’ (Sorry 😜

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