We’re all familiar with the physical benefits of fitness and exercise, but did you know that your emotional and mental health improve with exercise, too? Historically, the mind, body, and spirit were treated as separate entities. As we’ve progressed with research, we now know that these are intertwined, and treating one component will absolutely have an effect on the others! Physical activity has been linked with a long list of emotional benefits, including
- Reducing emotional pain (such as depression)
- Improving self-esteem
- Increasing resilience
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Improving concentration and focus
The World Health Organization (WHO) states, “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” It’s no wonder that exercise can improve your mood, attitude, and mind! Let’s take a look at five ways your mental and emotional fitness is influenced by physical fitness and exercise.
The professor in me wants to give you so many details on endorphins, but Elle Woods explains it much more concisely (and I won’t pass up an opportunity to quote Legally Blonde!) – Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.
I can’t fully turn off my professor side, so I’ll keep it short and sweet – Endorphins are the happy chemicals in your brain that produce euphoric feelings that reduce anxiety, improve your ability to relax, and decrease your ability to feel pain. Ever had a great run or an awesome workout and feel like you’re on Cloud 9 afterwards? Thank your endorphins! And what research has demonstrated is that regular exercise supports the development and release of endorphins, triggering a positive feeling in your body well after your workout has ended.
Your brain is constantly using energy and needs a steady flow of oxygen to function optimally. Exercise causes oxygen levels to rise as you increase your heart rate and get your blood pumping. Good oxygen flow to your brain also helps your brain create new cells. Each moment of the day, we are constantly taking in information from around us. In order for this information to “stick” (aka encode), new cells must be created. This improves the overall performance of your brain, leading to improved concentration, clearer thinking, improved memory, and increased information retention/learning.
Being stressed out wreaks havoc on your body. You’ll begin to feel physical symptoms like tension, headaches, stomach troubles, but you’ll also experience mental and emotional symptoms like irritability, insomnia, anxiety, etc. Exercise reduces stress not only through endorphins but by reducing the tension felt in your muscles and regulating your breathing and heart rate. When your body feels better, your brain will, too!
Keep in mind that your endorphins help you achieve a more relaxed state, so of course your sleep will benefit from regular exercise! The quality of your sleep is important for your mental and emotional health – it’s hard to feel happiness and clarity when you feel exhausted. Exercise increases the amount of time you spend in deep sleep, the stage where restorative benefits take place. Deep sleep assists immune system functioning, cardiovascular functioning, and helps control stress and anxiety. Without a good night’s sleep, you’re more likely to emotionally react to things around you rather than healthily respond to them. The exhaustion that comes from lack of sleep can also lead to a negative outlook – you have less control of your mind and exhaustion makes it much harder to keep positive thoughts flowing. The better your sleep, the better your mental health!
When you exercise, you are benefiting yourself as a whole – mind, body, and spirit. When you feel good about your choices and routines, your self-esteem increases! You’ll physically feel more comfortable and confident with your body’s abilities and progress. As you achieve small goals, your sense of pride and accomplishment will make you feel awesome and motivated to keep going. Exercise as a regular habit can make you feel powerful, in-control, and put-together. Combining all of these benefits provides a super boost to your self-worth!
Treating yourself with compassion and care is something many of us struggle with. Through nourishing and supporting the connections between your mind-body-spirit, your journey to health and healing can begin!
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