How exercise benefits the mind
The benefits of exercise go well beyond toned abs. Reboot your system, get those endorphins flowing, boost the brain and beat insomnia
We are all well aware of the physical benefits of exercise, but our resident exercise professional and health coach explains five key ways that exercise actually helps our minds to function optimally and happily as well.
Reduce stress and tension
Exercise is a natural stress buster. Working up a sweat not only distracts you from the tensions and worries that build up in your mind daily, but is actually scientifically proven to induce the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, all brain chemicals that help to boost mood and reduce stress levels.
Make exercise a daily priority. Perhaps, if you are not already a gym member, give it a go. Get a trial membership or pay as you go, and experiment with group classes. Boxercise is a great way to let off steam. Another good tip is to exercise with a friend – it’s more fun and by setting goals together you are more likely to stick to them. Alternatively, fill in the corners of your day with bite sized chunks of exercise in the comfort of your own home.
Lift your mood
You’ve all heard of those ‘happy brain chemicals’, otherwise known as endorphins. Well exercise, particularly cardio, causes a surge in the release of endorphins, which in turn works wonders to help lift your mood. ‘Runners’ high’ is no myth; it is the result of a very real change in brain chemistry. Outdoor exercise is a great mood enhancer, as the natural sunlight can help to boost the serotonin levels necessary for healthy brain function. To help blow away the cobwebs and raise your spirits you could take a brisk walk in the bracing fresh air, cycle in the park, play ball with the kids or try a gentle jog to get the heart rate up.
Ensure a good night’s sleep
Much research is now focused on the benefits of good quality, uninterrupted sleep. Exercise helps to tire the body and relax the mind, preparing you for a good night’s sleep. We have all felt the overwhelming fatigue that subsumes you after a challenging physical pursuit such as a run or a long blustery cliff walk, and then experienced the divine feeling of drifting to sleep like a baby that night. Try to increase your daily physical activity levels with some aerobic exercise and you will notice the difference in sleep quality.
Alternatively, look to yoga to help you relax in the evening. With its perfect combination of strenuous poses and deep breathing techniques, yoga has the capacity both to exhilarate and relax. Most yoga sessions will end with a few minutes of ‘shavasana’, the pose designed to rejuvenate the body, mind and spirit through meditative relaxation.
Boost cognitive function
Research shows that physical activity can help to boost the chemicals in the brain responsible for preserving the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that focuses on learning and memory. Recent studies have linked brain development in children with levels of exercise, providing a real incentive for parents to get the kids moving away from their screens and towards more active pursuits such as a visit to the park, which is hassle and cost free. Kids are naturally enviably energetic and like nothing better than to let off steam by kicking a ball or running for the sake of running.
For all of us, optimum performance of the brain requires a constant supply of oxygen. It doesn’t need an hour of full on structured exercise; even simple daily activities such as domestic chores or running up the stairs will help circulate the blood and pump it more efficiently to the brain, improving your sharpness, response time and clarity of thought.
Restore self-confidence, motivation and the feel-good factor
Turn a lack of self-confidence into a virtuous circle by upping your exercise. As described above, physical exertion will alleviate stress levels, boost your endorphins, lead you to make healthy food choices to enhance your energy levels, which will improve self-confidence and ultimately lead to a surge in motivation and productivity – all good reasons to make exercise a cornerstone in your daily life.