Most of us understand the physical benefits of exercise. With exercise we become stronger, leaner, and faster. We may lose weight and become more physically attractive. We may avoid physical diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and others. All of these are excellent reasons to find the time to exercise regularly.
What many people don’t realize, or don’t think about very often, are the mental benefits of regular exercise. There are many, many mental (and therefore emotional) benefits to exercise. Here are 3 of the major ones:
1. Improve your mood. Almost everybody has heard of a “runner’s high.” Essentially, as we run endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller, are released into our bodies. These endorphins are more powerful than morphine, and tend to create feelings of happiness and well-being, as well as kill the pain of running long distances. To get a runners high most of us have to run really long distances, or for really long times. And the effects are short term… but still worth it!
The great news is that research shows that there are long term mood effects of regular exercise. That is because those feelings of euphoria we experience during a runner’s high are not caused only by the release of endorphins. Research is now showing that in addition to endorphine releases, exercise also appears to result in increases in norephinephrine and serotonin, both neurotransmitters that play leading roles in mood regulation.
In other words, regular exercise makes you a happier person. And you don’t necessarily have to run marathons, or run at all to get long lasting effects. Any regular exercise will do.
2. Improve your self-image. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, there are physical benefits to exercise. Regular exercise generally improves self-image because of these benefits. But that’s not the complete story.
Regular exercise also improves self-image because as we stick with a program, improve, and see progress, we feel like we are accomplishing our goals. We feel proud of what we are doing. That in itself builds self-confidence, and contributes to continued success not only with our exercise routines but also in other aspects of our lives.
3. Improve your attitude. The boost in self-confidence, and the pride we feel at accomplishing our goals, that we spoke about in the last session has another effect. It improves our general attitude and outlook on life. When we accomplish goals we are happier, more cheerful people.
There are other ways that exercise can improve our attitudes as well. With exercise we alleviate tension (physical and mental), and can temporarily escape from stressful problems or situations by changing our focus. In doing so we may realize after we take a break from these problems that they are not so overwhelming after all, and we may even think of creative ways of solving them.
And, as a bonus for reading this post here is a 4th great reason to exercise. Exercise is one of the best ways around to manage stress and extend your life (okay, that’s 5). The biochemical and physiological benefits of exercise are not only fat burners, but tension burners as well.
The culmination of improvements in mood, self-image, and attitude not only make us happier, more fun, people to be around, they also better equip us for dealing with the chronic stress that most of us feel throughout our lives. And in doing so, exercise helps us avoid the physical, mental and emotional illnesses that chronic stress leads to.
So if you want a happier and healthier life, find 30-40 minutes a day and get moving.