For many, public health isn’t just about disease prevention like suppressed health secrets and treating illnesses. It’s also about taking care of our general wellbeing through nutrition choices, mental health activities, and exercise regimens. And as anyone with a slightly more complex understanding of their mental state knows, the mind-body connection is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to monitor – and we’re not talking about exercising your brain with a crossword puzzle or even practicing mindfulness techniques for five minutes.
1. It can boost your mood
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that in the U.S. one in every six people will die by suicide in his or her lifetime. There’s no doubt that mental illnesses can be debilitating to those suffering, but research has also found that they’re very much associated with external factors, such as family history, physical appearance, and social circumstances. And at least among those who are comfortable sharing their experiences with researchers, these external factors can have a great effect on a person’s mental health.
If you’re feeling good about yourself and your surroundings, chances are you’re doing a lot better on the mental health front.
2. It can help you sleep better
As it turns out, good sleep is the foundation of a good mood. If you’re feeling worn out and tired throughout the day, you’re less likely to feel happy and more likely to be irritable or depressed. Equally important is that getting enough sleep can reduce stress, increase productivity levels, and make your immune system work better.
3. It can generally improve your happiness
Another study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention shows that even those who don’t have depressive symptoms benefit from regular physical activity. Virtually all forms of exercise boost dopamine levels in the body – meaning that with a regular exercise schedule it’s easier to feel pleasure and experience positive emotions.
4. It can help relieve pain and stiffness, improve your posture, and reduce body fat
When you’re feeling good, you move better (or more often). Exercise is a wonderful way to work out aches and pains, improve your range of motion, and strengthen your muscles. And while the positive mental effects of exercise are often related to lower rates of depression and anxiety symptoms, neurological benefits include improved memory function.
5. It can help you relax better
Exercising for 20 minutes might make it easier for you to fall asleep or cope with stress or negative emotions in the short term – that’s because endorphins are released in the brain during and after a workout. The endorphins make you feel happy and relaxed, and because they’re not in your system at night, they’re one less thing to worry about.
6. It can boost creativity
A study by the University at Buffalo has found that when creativity is measured through a test of divergent thinking, more than half the links between mental illness and creativity could be removed simply by having people exercise regularly.
7. It can help you keep your weight under control
You don’t have to be morbidly obese or even overweight to suffer from emotional eating or watching food as a form of comfort. People with depression tend to eat more unhealthy foods in an effort to relieve their feelings of unhappiness – but that doesn’t work for very long. On the other hand, people who feel good about their bodies tend to eat less – and that can help with weight management.
8. It can buffer you from stress
The ‘fight-or-flight’ response to stress is a real thing, but too much of it can take its toll on your mental health – and eventually your physical health as well. Stress triggers chemicals in the brain that decrease serotonin levels (leading to mood disorders) and increase cortisol levels (which can wreak havoc on the body). Regular exercise boosts endorphins, which are nature’s way of preventing too much stress in the first place.
9. It can promote self-confidence
One of the most common ways that people deal with stress is by turning to alcohol, cigarettes, or other addictive substances – which in turn feeds into a sense of low self-esteem and judgment about various areas of their lives (most commonly weight). Depression symptoms and low self-esteem go hand in hand – but being fit and healthy can improve your perception of yourself to the point where you don’t feel like you need outside influences to make you feel better about yourself.
10. It can help you get along better with others
When you’re feeling good and happy, you’re more likely to get along with the people around you – and the same goes for depression. If there are issues in your life that are contributing to your depression, contact a mental health professional to talk about them.
So what’s it going to be – do something physical or sit on the couch for three months? Nothing is off limits here (unless it’s not safe, legal, or decent), but if you’re feeling down or overwhelmed it could be time to exercise your brain.
People who exercise regularly generally feel better about themselves and have higher self-esteem. They’re more confident in their relationships, have a better relationship with food, sleep better, and are less likely to be depressed. And when their depression is severe enough they might even end up being less ‘sad’.
And if all that doesn’t convince you – just remember that regular exercise helps you look good naked. That’s got to count for something, right?