A woman standing in a gym wearing athleisure clothes, holding a basketball near her head as she stands in front of a rack of basketballs

Chances are you put in effort to, at least in part, improve your appearance. There’s no denying that exercise can help you tone muscle and shed pounds. However, did you know that it improves your mental outlook as well? 

The confidence you build from hitting the gym spills out into everyday life. Lifting weights or using the treadmill helps ease dark moods and improve concentration and focus. Getting fit can even help you foster new friendships and break unhealthy habits. Lace up your sneakers and reap these fabulous mental health benefits of exercise.

Here are the benefits of exercise outside of just improving your physical appearance:

1. It alleviates depression. 

A recent study from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America evaluated the effects of exercise on adults with depression ages 18-65. Researchers found a significant overall antidepressant effect when participants sweated it out with 45 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week. 

“Well, that sounds peachy,” you might think. “However, when I’m depressed, the last thing I want to do is hit the gym.” This statement is fair, but try to overcome your mood by following the 10-minute rule. Set a timer and commit to working out for at least 10 minutes. 

At the end of the period, evaluate how you feel. Can you keep going for another 10 or 20 minutes? If so, continue. If, however, you feel as low as ever, then permit yourself to stop. Oftentimes, even a mini-endorphin boost gives you the enthusiasm you need to continue. Treat yourself kindly. 

Oftentimes, even a mini-endorphin boost gives you the enthusiasm you need to continue.

2. It helps you soothe anxiety. 

Exercise also helps ease symptoms of various anxiety disorders. When you’re always stressed, your body produces higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that contributes to the fight-or-flight response. When levels of this hormone remain elevated long term, your health suffers. You may have a desire to binge-eat unhealthy foods. Working out helps you lower the amount of this hormone in your bloodstream naturally. 

How much exercise do you need to reap the rewards? Most experts recommend approximately 30 minutes per day on most days of the week. If you can’t fit in a full half-hour session, then try taking mini-breaks of 5-10 minutes at a stretch. You can squeeze in strength-training during commercial breaks on TV, for example. 

3. It improves your confidence.

Working out can give you a boost of self-confidence because every time you finish a routine, you know you did something positive with your time. However, it’s crucial to remember you’re not competing with anyone else—even if you’re training for a race. When you compare yourself to others, you make yourself feel inferior. Instead, focus on yourself and plan celebrations when you reach particular milestones. 

4. It helps you form friendships. 

When you meet somebody at the gym or through a fitness group, you know you share at least one thing in common. Plus, you can use your newfound buddy system to hold yourself accountable. It’s a lot tougher to justify your decision to remain in sofa-city if you have to meet somebody. Plus, friendship benefits mental health by fostering a spirit of community and reminding you that you’re not alone!

5. It improves concentration and focus.

Exercising increases the flow of blood to your brain, bathing your neurons in life-giving oxygen. Getting your heart pumping also decreases insulin resistance and your body’s inflammatory response, both of which can impact focus. People who work out regularly have more volume in the areas of the brain associated with memory and thinking. 

6. It helps you overcome unhealthy addictions. 

Both scientific research and subjective reports indicate that exercise can help you overcome addiction. Regular workouts lend structure to the lives of those battling a drug or alcohol addiction. This renewed purpose gives them something to look forward to each day instead of their addiction. Others believe that replacing an unhealthy habit with a more positive one helps to break the cycle. 

7. It lets you catch your Z’s.

A lack of shut-eye can leave you feeling all out of sorts. Scientific research attributes insomnia to the development of various psychiatric diseases. MRI imaging indicates that when shown stressful pictures, the amygdalas of sleep-deprived individuals light up with a heightened emotional response more than their well-rested peers. This increase in activity could explain the erratic behavior displayed by some individuals.

Getting enough sleep helps you feel your best mentally and physically. Sweating it up makes for a sound night of rest!

Exercise benefits your mental health, as well as your body. Even though many of us think of working out as something you do to improve body confidence, your brain reaps benefits, too. If you’re feeling low, then try adding more exercise to your weekly routine!

Why do you workout? What benefits have you found from exercising?

Image via JUCO, Darling Issue No. 20

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