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15 Positive Psychological Effects of Exercise

Photo Credit: www.kurzweilai.net

We have all heard that exercise releases endorphins, fights anxiety, increases stress resilience, and improves sleep. However, there are additional psychological effects exercise has on the mind. Check out these 15 effects:

1. Escape a Bad Mood: Exercise helps transform a bad mood into a good one. Ever gone for a run after a stressful work day? Chances are you felt better afterward. Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise, you get a mood enhancement effect. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with brain receptors (same receptors that bind some pain medicines) to reduce your perception of pain and trigger a positive feeling.

2. Reduce Anxiety: Both low and moderate intensity exercise has shown to reduce anxiety, however,

doing high intensity exercise, especially in women, has shown to provide the greatest reduction in anxiety.

 Regular workouts are even helpful for people prone to anxiety because it makes them less likely to panic. Exercise in many ways is like exposure treatment; therefore, people learn to associate the symptoms with safety instead of danger.

3. Stress Resilience: Exercise increases concentrations of norepinephrine which can affect the brain’s response to stress. Exercise stops neurons firing in the region of the brain which is stimulated during a stress response. Studies in mice have shown exercise reorganizes the brain by resisting neuron fire and making the brain more resistant to stress.

4. Improved Sleep: Although it’s not necessarily accurate to say exercise makes you more tired, exercise does show to improve sleep over the long term. Moving around five to six hours before bedtime raises the body’s temperature and when your temperature drops back to normal a few hours later; this signals the body that it’s time to sleep.

5. Lower Dementia Risk:

Any type of exercise which gets your heart pumping lowers the risk of dementia.

Regular exercise in midlife is associated with lower levels of cognitive problems, helping to prevent dementia and mild cognitive impairments.

6. Fight Depression: Physical activity extends beyond the mood enhancing short term effects and shows to help alleviate long-term depression. Exercise provides moderate relief and can alleviate symptoms among those depressed and has even worked just as effective as antidepressant pills.

7. Speed Up Your Mind: After just 30 minutes of exercise, your working memory (what’s in your conscious mind right now and what you’re doing with this information) improves. Exercise improves spatial memory by increasing production of cells in the hippocampus (responsible for memory and learning).

8. Reduce Silent Strokes:

Exercise reduces the chance of silent strokes by 40%.

It has to be more than walking to experience these benefits so any moderate movement like jogging, biking, tennis, or swimming are great to get the protective effect.

9. Protect Against Alzheimer’s: Exercise provides a protective effect against Alzheimer’s by helping to produce chemicals which fight the damaging inflammation of the brain. As the most common form of dementia, the brain literally wastes away followed by the body. Alzheimer’s kills off brain cells which cause the brain to shrink, losing important brain functions. Although exercise cannot cure Alzheimer’s, it can help fight against cognitive decline. As mentioned in #7 above, there is a chemical boost in the brain which prevents degeneration of the hippocampus, an imperative part of the brain for memory.

10. Improve Children’s School Performance: Children who engage in more exercise do better in school. Cardiovascular exercise can improve brain performance and a tough workout (high movement and coordination) increases levels of brain-derived protein in the body which is believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning.

11. Stimulate Brain Cell Growth: Connected to cardiovascular exercise, doing cardio can create new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis. Exercise actually helps new brain cells to grow, specifically the brain regions related to memory and learning.

12. Increase Executive Functioning:  Exercise reliably improves executive functioning, such as: switching tasks efficiently, ignoring distractions, and making plans.

13. Prevent Migraines: Although there is fear that exercise may create a migraine, exercise can actually help prevent migraines.

Exercising at least three days a week shows improvements equal to taking the most current anti-migraine drugs.

14. Stop Smoking: Taking a brisk walk or doing a similar exercise can help someone give up smoking. Taking that walk creates an experience of less stress, less anxiety, and fewer withdrawal symptoms and helps by making the cigarette seem less attractive.

15. Reduce Motivation to Eat: Contrary to what is believed (eating more after exercise to replace lost calories) after exercise, people have lower motivation to eat food. Exercise helps to suppress hunger by decreasing the body’s levels of ghrelin (hormone that stimulates appetite). Additionally, exercising in the morning makes us more health focused for the day, choosing healthier food and movement options throughout our day.

Exercising has several positive effects which go beyond the gym. Which effects could you benefit from by exercising every day?

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