When you think of the benefits of physical activity, most people think of the positive effects on weight and on the heart, lungs, and muscles. But one effect that is less well known is the extent to which physical activity has a beneficial impact on mood and mental health.
Exercise boosts the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain
A number of studies have shown that physical activity stimulates the brain to produce more neurotransmitters, notably serotonin, which has an anti-depressant effect, and endorphins, which induce feelings of well-being after you exercise
Higher levels of neurotransmitters help combat depression, anxiety, and stress.
Exercise boosts energy levels
Regular physical activity helps improve heart and lung function. It also helps you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. When you have less weight to carry and your heart and lungs are able to work more efficiently, you have more energy to perform your everyday activities. This generates a feeling of well-being that reflects positively on your mood.
Exercise improves sleep
Regular physical activity helps improve sleep in a number of ways:
- It helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle.
- It reduces anxiety and stress, which has a beneficial effect on sleep.
- It releases serotonin, which has a positive impact on sleep.
- In people who are overweight, weight loss helps reduce sleep apnea.
Exercise helps break social isolation
When you’re feeling down in the dumps, it’s easy to fall into a vicious circle: the more isolated you are, the gloomier you feel; the gloomier you feel, the more likely you are to avoid social contact.
Being physically active can help break this isolation. That doesn’t mean you have to rush out and sign up for a group activity—a simple smile from someone you cross paths with while you’re out for a walk can be enough to break that isolation!
Tips for making physical activity part of your lifestyle
- Opt for an activity that fits into your routine. Walking is an excellent choice because you can do it anywhere and it doesn’t require any specialized equipment.
- Start out gently and gradually increase your activity, both in terms of duration and intensity. People who try to do too much too fast often end up discouraged or injured.
- Short, regular sessions (e.g., 30 minutes a day) are just as beneficial as longer, less frequent sessions (e.g., 60 minutes, 3 times a week).
- Take advantage of free trial offers to try a new activity before taking out an expensive membership.
If you have health problems, it’s important to get the green light from your doctor first. He or she may recommend you avoid certain types of activity that could be incompatible with your condition.