Everyone knows that exercise is good for your physical well-being, but many may overlook the fact that regular exercise has a real and positive influence on mental health as well. Exercise helps reduce stress, increase focus, heighten self-confidence, improve memory, ease anxiety and improve motivation. There are a few quick, simple exercises that will have you looking, feeling and thinking your best.
Photo courtesy Boot Camp Melbourne.
Walking has a great impact on your mental health, aiding in reducing anxiety and depression. Even a short 20 minute walk can make a huge difference in your attitude. The increase in body temperature and release of feel-good chemicals (endorphins) that come with physical movement have been shown to relieve some depression symptoms. Walking also helps give your mind a break from the everyday, which takes it off of things that might be causing anxiety and worry. If possible, take a hike outdoors with a friend or pet to enjoy fresh air, nice scenery and really maximize the mental benefits.
The practice of yoga offers many health benefits. It helps alleviate stress, calms the nervous system, relaxes muscle tension and decreases stress. There are many places that have regularly scheduled group yoga classes, but if you don't have the time or desire to take one of these, simply practicing with a yoga DVD from the comfort of your living room will provide a multitude of benefits.
According the United States Census Bureau, swimming is the second most popular sport in the United States. Swimming with others during swim lessons or at a public pool fosters friendships, which alleviate stress, provide a sense of well-being and improve memory formation. If you live in or around New York City, find swim lessons near you and get started learning a skill you can use your whole life.
Several studies have shown that creativity increases for a few hours after an aerobic workout. If you don’t have time to do a long workout, or need to wake your brain up fast, short bursts of aerobic exercise are very effective. Try doing 20 jumping jacks or jogging in place for a few minutes. While, short mini-exercise sessions may help in the short-term, regular exercise has more lasting benefits.
Cycling provides you with new scenery, physical exercise and mental stimulation. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that regular exercise can keep your “learning, thinking, and judgement skills sharp as you age.” With Alzheimer's on the rise and a growing concern for many, it's encouraging to hear that exercise can help improve memory and long-term cognitive function. Bike riding is enjoyable for most and relatively easy to get started, even if you aren’t in fabulous physical shape.
Dancing can be enjoyed by anyone, at any age and any fitness level. You can dance at home while doing housework to increase your aerobic exertion, or sign up to take a formal class. Classes provide the opportunity for you to interact and be social, and also offer accountability, motivation and fun.
As a general rule, any exercise that’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. To maximize the benefits, it’s best to exercise in the morning before your day gets started. This gets blood flowing and spikes brain activity, which will allow you to respond quickly and appropriately to difficult situations and reduce your stress throughout the day. Experts recommend exercising 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. If you’re unable to do that immediately, start small and work up to it. So, do your heart and mind some good and get exercising!
Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter, @BrookeChaplan.