Most everyone is aware of the myriad of benefits that exercise has on our physical health and wellness.
We know that when we work out our bodies are made stronger, faster, and healthier all at once – but most of us don’t realize that there are significant mental health benefits of exercise, too!
But that’s what we are here to explore in this detailed guide.
Below we run through some of the most impactful mental health benefits of exercise millions of people are enjoying right now, the kinds of benefits that can last a lifetime.
If you’re interested in leading as healthy and as happy a lifestyle as you can for as long as possible – not just physically, but mentally, too – you’ll want to check out the details we share below!
Let’s get right into it, shall we?
Scientists have long understood that physical exercise – especially intense and regular physical exercise – has the ability to naturally elevate the amount of endorphins that are released throughout the body.
Endorphins are these amazing little biochemicals (hormones, really) that may as well be called “happy juice”.
The more endorphins we have swimming around in our bloodstream, the happier we feel. But there’s more to it than that, even.
All of these extra endorphins help to sustain and maintain elevated happiness and optimism even in the face of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.
This isn’t just a quick fix for feeling better but instead an effective solution for almost permanently rewiring your brain to feel more happiness and gratitude, too!
A number of studies, including one conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, have shown that regular exercise also has the ability to armour the mind and the spirit against feelings of depression.
Some of this has to do with the extra release of endorphins that are going to be flowing throughout the body, but regular exercise also helps to:
All of that combines to push back against depression and negative thoughts in a big way.
There are plenty of medical experts that recommend exercise routines for those that are struggling with anxiety as well.
A proven anti-anxiety therapy, exercise works to alleviate tension, eliminate stress, improve overall physical health and wellness, and even increase your energy levels.
And then throw in the extra endorphins we’ve been talking about a little bit and it’s not hard to see why exercise is such a great tool for fighting anxiety.
Those that are using exercise to push back against anxiety are also often advised to implement mindfulness exercises into their physical exercises, too. This does double duty – helping people to improve their physical condition but also to armor their minds against stress and pressure at the same time.
Regular physical exercise also works to wash away excessive levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, that can naturally build up in our bodies when we are feeling stressed out, overworked, and under rested.
It’s not hard to feel overwhelmed with the kind of lives we lead today.
A lot of us are “go go go” on a pretty consistent basis even while living otherwise sedentary lifestyles, a nasty combination that has a swimming in more cortisol than any of us realize.
By exercising we eliminate that cortisol from the bloodstream, replace it with endorphins (no surprise here), and also physically tax our bodies to the point where we can’t do anything but get a great night worth of sleep after working out.
The end result is waking up feeling more rested, more peaceful, and more calm than we would have been otherwise!
One of the most often overlooked mental health benefits of exercise has to be the ability to improve our focus, our concentration, as well as our motivation and our overall mood.
A lot of people feel like they just aren’t able to focus up like they used to when they were younger, and most would agree that the modern day attention span is significantly shorter than it used to be in the past.
Combine that with daily stresses and pressures as well as our responsibilities to remember and retain important information and it’s not hard to get overloaded.
With regular exercise, though, dopamine levels, norepinephrine levels, and serotonin levels all naturally increase, too. These chemicals help us to improve our focus and concentration, boost retention of key details, and generally help with cognitive health and wellness.
It’s hard to imagine there being a better natural sleeping pill than getting in a good workout!
Even people that struggle with insomnia are able to get a better night worth of sleep by exercising earlier in the day, particularly if they ratchet up the intensity and the enthusiasm.
Exercise throughout the day helps to elevate your core temperature, helps to speed up your metabolism, and helps to physically tax your body all at the same time. Inevitably (and eventually, usually a couple of hours later) your body is going to cool down, your metabolism is going to slow down, and that physical stress is going to trigger the natural sleep response in the body.
You’ll be off to visit the Sandman sooner than you think, getting a great restful night of sleep that’s going to leave you feeling fresher and more energized than ever before.
That’s great for your mental health!
Of course there are a whole host of other mental health benefits of exercise you’ll enjoy when you get serious about your fitness, including (but definitely not limited to:
The natural release of endorphins following intense physical exercise will help you to feel happier in the moment, but are also going to improve your concentration, your cognitive abilities, and your ability to retain important details.
You’ll literally be able to work out your memory while building your body!
Improving your self-esteem can have a transformative impact on the rest of your mental health, boosting your confidence, improving your self image, and generally just giving you a shot of self worth that might have otherwise been lacking.
There’s a real sense of accomplishment in building your body, taking care of your physical health, and seeing the results of your hard work in real time.
Energy levels are going to be elevated not only while you are working out but following those grueling and intense physical training sessions, too.
You’ll end up building a bigger, stronger, faster – and healthier – body all at once, one that’s going to feel a lot more energetic than if you were living a more sedentary lifestyle for sure. The improved sleep you get from working out is going to help you in the energy department as well!
Last, but certainly not least, one of the most often overlooked mental health benefits of exercise has to be the ability to – quite literally – build resilience.
We’re not just talking about physical resilience, either (though that’s definitely going to be a direct result of working out regularly).
We are talking about mental and emotional resilience that can help you lead a more holistically healthy and happy lifestyle.
By building solid fitness habits you’re going to be able to increase your willpower, your confidence, and create incentive structures to help you steer clear of bad diets, alcohol, drugs, and other behaviors that could send your health into a tailspin.
You’ll also be building and improving your immune system and lowering the impact that cortisol and stress has on your body and your mind. You’ll become stronger in all areas of your life!