5 Effects of Exercise on Our Mind

The Comprehensive Mental Benefits of Exercise

Exercise is widely recognized for its physical benefits, but its impact on mental health is equally significant. Let’s explore the various ways in which regular physical activity enhances our mental well-being.

Reduces Depression

When we exercise, our brain releases endorphins, which make us feel good. Additionally, exercise distracts us from negative thought cycles that can exacerbate depression. Studies show that exercise can be as effective as medication for mild to moderate depression. According to research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, running for 15 minutes a day or walking for half an hour can reduce the risk of major depression by up to 21%. Maintaining an exercise routine can alleviate depression symptoms and prevent relapse​ (Harvard School of Public Health)​​ (St. Mary’s Health Care System)​.

Enhances Your Mood

A study featured in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise asked participants to rate their mood immediately after engaging in physical activities (such as walking or doing housework) and after sedentary activities (such as reading or watching TV). The participants reported feeling happier, more alert, and calmer after being physically active compared to when they were sedentary. The researchers also found that physical activity had a more significant positive impact on those whose mood was initially low. Another study found that team sports have a substantial effect on mood, reducing mental burden by more than 22%. According to Sammi Chekroud, one of the study’s authors, this benefit may stem from the social aspects of team sports. He explains, “Given the often-reported feelings of loneliness among individuals with mood disorders, exercising with others can facilitate social interaction and help alleviate some symptoms of low mood.”

Manages Stress

Have you ever noticed what your body goes through when you’re stressed? Common physical symptoms of stress include sleep problems, sweating, and loss of appetite. These symptoms are triggered by stress hormones in our body. Adrenaline and noradrenaline increase blood pressure and heart rate, preparing our body for a quick response. Another stress hormone, cortisol, steps in to manage stress and boost our energy levels by regulating fat and carbohydrate metabolism.

The anxiety and discomfort caused by these physical symptoms can lead to even more stress. One of the best ways to break this cycle is through exercise. Physical activity not only triggers the release of endorphins in the brain but also helps relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. In short, when your body feels good, so does your mind. Research on working adults shows that those who are highly active experience less stress compared to their inactive counterparts​ (St. Mary’s Health Care System)​​ (Harvard School of Public Health)​.

Strengthens Your Memory

Exercise enhances memory both directly and indirectly. While it improves mood, it also reduces stress and anxiety, which are known to contribute to cognitive decline. A study conducted at the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercises, which increase heart rate, can enlarge the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning. Additionally, many studies suggest that the regions of the brain responsible for thinking and memory have greater volume in people who exercise compared to those who do not. Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School, notes that “the findings showing an increase in the volume of these brain regions with regular moderate-intensity exercise over six months to a year are quite exciting”​ (Harvard School of Public Health)​.

Increases Self-Confidence

Research suggests that exercise can significantly improve our self-esteem. There are various mechanisms through which exercise improves our self-assessment. Firstly, exercise enhances our mood in the short term, encouraging more positive thinking. Secondly, in the long term, regular exercise helps us feel better about our physical self and abilities. In essence, exercise contributes to a sense of achievement, thereby increasing self-confidence over both short and long periods​ (St. Mary’s Health Care System)​​ (Harvard School of Public Health)​.


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