No doubt about it, exercise does a mind good. For years, scientists have known that exercise can dispel stress, anxiety and depression, and many folks who have been treated for mood and anxiety disorders find a good exercise program can even prevent relapses.
According to the US Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health, physically active people enjoy better mental health. They report higher competence in accomplishing everyday activities. They possess a more positive self concept, higher self-esteem, more positive moods, and display more positive facial expressions.
No one knows exactly how exercise works its magic, but scientists report evidence to suggest exercise boosts endorphins and neurotransmitters that make us feel good. Exercise can reduce levels of stress hormones, like cortisol. Sleep is essential to good mental health, and a good workout during the day (a couple of hours, at least, before bedtime) can help you sleep at night. And meeting others for exercise activities carries social rewards
There are other benefits as well. Feeling fit and toned is a real bonus. A strong, toned body puts more spring in your step. It changes your perspective in the world: objects seem lighter, and distances shorter. You will experience less fatigue, making everyday tasks seem easy. And fit people challenge themselves more.
Exercise is one habit we should keep through old age. Mild cognitive changes occur as early as 50 years of age, but there’s hope. Researchers who performed a recent review of studies in the Netherlands report, “Aerobic physical exercises that improve cardiovascular fitness also help boost cognitive processing speed, motor function and visual and auditory attention in healthy older people.”
So, how does shaking what mama and papa gave you free your mind?
Angevaren, one of the Dutch researchers, explains, “Improvements in cognition as a result of improvements in cardiovascular fitness are being explained by improvements in cerebral blood flow, leading to increased brain metabolism which, in turn, stimulates the production of neurotransmitters and formation of new synapses.”
In other words, more blood to the brain, increased brain activity, more chemical messages flowing from one brain cell to another, and new connections between brain cells—what’s not to love? And if this is not enough, here’s something more to cheer you: studies show your level of fitness, and not how much body fat you have, determines how long you live!
Choosing an activity to please your body and mind is the best way to stick with your program. If you don’t enjoy your routine in the short run you are unlikely to stick with it in the long run. Sample a number of sports and activities to learn what you like, and what you don’t. Know the strengths and limitations of your body; not all of us are built to be runners, for example. If you’re in good condition and aren’t sure what activities are right for you, check with a qualified personal trainer. Folks with physical limitations should consult a physical therapist.
So get out there—walk, run, skate, climb, leap, play, lift, dance and swim to raise your spirits. You and those you love will be glad you did.
Angevaren M, et al. Physical activity and enhanced fitness to improve cognitive function in older people without known cognitive impairment (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 2.