Where do we begin when it comes to all of the benefits and positive effects that exercise has on our daily lives? While there are many obvious good things that come from exercising such as a lower risk of cancer, dementia, obesity, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes, what most don’t realize is that exercise does NOT imply that you have to have (or try to create) one of those crazy muscular bodies. Exercising for your health does NOT have to equal creating six-pack abs.
Instead, there are simple, less strenuous (and less sweaty) things we can do that are considered “exercise.” Simple things, if we put a little conscious effort into doing, that will actually help not only your body but also your brain. Yes, that’s right. Exercise will work on your mental health as well as your physical health. If you’re still not entirely convinced that you should switch off Netflix and take a walk, keep reading…
Reasons to Start Exercising — Right Now
You know that exercise helps you stay toned and fit and can help you shed unwanted pounds. But that’s not the only reason to hit the gym — it’s also incredibly helpful for your psyche. Here are just a handful of reasons why exercise is good for your brain, not just your body:
1. Exercise can improve the quality of your sleep.
2. Exercise can help reduce the severity of your depression, in many cases immediately.
3. Exercise may help to chase away negative thoughts.
4. Exercise can help boost your memory.
5. Exercise can help to improve your concentration.
6. Exercise can lead to more positive self-esteem.
7. Exercise can relieve stress by burning off adrenaline and other stress chemicals.
8. Exercise stimulates your body’s release of endorphins, which are chemicals that naturally make you feel more calm and relaxed.
9. Exercise can help improve your mental health*.
10. Exercise can help to slow cognitive decline.
* Update Feb. 2020 | Most current research study on Association Between Physical Exercise and Mental Health published on The Lancet showed findings that individuals who exercised had fewer days of poor mental health than individuals who did not exercise.
So, how does it work? According to studies, the parts of the brain that control memory and thinking — the medial temporal lobe and the prefrontal cortex — have greater volume in people who engage in regular exercise versus people who don’t. Exercise helps thinking and memory via direct and indirect ways. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce inflammation, lower insulin resistance, and stimulate the release of growth factors, which are chemicals in your brain that affect the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, the health of existing brain cells, and even the survival and abundance of new brain cells. Indirectly, exercise reduces stress and anxiety and improves mood and sleep. Problems in these areas frequently contribute to or cause cognitive impairment.
Although the benefits of exercising for a healthy brain are plenty, for many people who suffer from depression on a daily basis, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to find the motivation to get up and go. This is certainly understandable, especially considering that depression often goes hand-in-hand with a lack of energy and enthusiasm. In some people, depression can also manifest as physical symptoms such as pain or headaches, which can make the thought of exercising even less appealing than it already is. Fortunately, there are several simple, painless ways to add quick bursts of exercise into your daily routine. Let’s take a look.
Quick & Easy Exercises to Boost Your Brain Power
Research shows that heart-elevating activities like aerobic exercises are the most successful when it comes to reducing the symptoms of depression. However, other forms of exercise such as strength conditioning or training might also be effective ways of managing your depression and giving your brain the positive vibes it needs. Although exercise can help you get a handle on depression, boost your mental clarity, and reduce stress almost immediately, there are also a number of long-term advantages of exercise to think about, including muscle-toning, weight loss, improved physical strength, increased vitality, and more energy.
Whether you choose to run two miles every day or do a 10-minute yoga session in your living room a few times a week, if you can identify at least one activity that you love to do, you’re well on your way to developing an effective exercise routine that you’re likely to stick to. Here are some quick and easy ideas for beginners to get you started:
● Try starting with some simple facial exercises and give your smile a workout.
● You only need take a 15-minute walk outside (weather permitting, of course) to get the blood flowing and heart pumping.
● Ease into some exercises like trying a modified plank using your knees instead of your feet.
● Perform side-lying leg lifts while you’re watching television.
● You can modify push-ups by doing them on your elbows instead of with your hands.
● Try assisted squats by holding onto a piece of furniture.
● Stretches are great. Try a Superman (ok, Supergirl) pose by laying on your stomach and stretching out like you’re flying.
● Got a foam roller laying around? Play with some easy, helpful foam roller exercises and stretches.
● Want a little more high-intensity, there are some quick HIIT exercises that can pump things up quickly.
Fortunately, being “active” doesn’t have to mean training for a marathon. If you engage in some type of activity for just 15 to 30 minutes for three to five days a week, even if you start out with something non-physical like meditation, you should begin to feel the positive effects on your mental clarity and well-being. Once you get the hang of exercise and you’ve developed a routine, you’ll also want to make sure you’re eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and reducing the amount of stress in your life — as best you can — so that your brain can function at optimal levels. Keep up the momentum by setting small goals for yourself each week, and reward yourself with things like new workout clothes [wink], maybe a new haircut, a trip to the local spa, or that special something you’ve been trying to justify to yourself for months.
The cognitive spillover we get from exercising reminds us that our brains don’t operate by themselves. What you do with your physical body has a direct effect on your mental capabilities. Sitting around all day, every day, can be dangerous for your emotional health and overall well-being. So, don’t worry about the type of exercising you’re doing or how long you’re doing it. Don’t make it too difficult for yourself to the point where you want to throw in the towel. Just find something you enjoy doing, then get up and go do it. Your body — and brain — will thank you.