It is well known that movement is good for your body. Sure, it can improve your aerobic capacity, prevent long-term illness, help shed a few pounds and increase muscle tone, but one of the most astounding benefits: an improved mental health. When you move your body, your mind moves with it.
Nowadays, there is less need to move. We can do a lot of things with a tap of a button. We are hardwired to technology and the convenience of the modern world. But there is always an opportunity to move our bodies. This doesn't mean you need to run a marathon or do 50 burpees a day. As the saying goes, a little goes a long way. Movement in its simplest form can be just as effective.
Here are four ways movement can benefit your mental health.
Feeling a little tense? Physical movement has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, by increasing the release of our feel-good hormone, dopamine. Our bodies respond to stress better when our dopamine levels are higher. Research has demonstrated a calming effect of exercise that lasts up to several hours. (1) In particular, exercise that requires you to focus on your breathing can trigger relaxation and minimise stress. (2)
Increase your brainpower by moving more. It's as simple as that.
Physical activity provides a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells. Research has shown exercise can increase brain-derived neurotrophic factors in the hippocampus - the part of the brain responsible for learning & memory. This increase helps to facilitate new cells and improves the health of existing ones. In turn, improving memory and overall brain performance. (3)
As you begin to reach your goals, you start to feel better about yourself. Whether you manage to walk an extra 10 minutes or land a PB in the gym, you gain a sense of achievement - you take pride in yourself. Lift yourself up, give yourself the boost you need.
Moving more and burning energy can result in a better night's sleep and a happier you. This seems contradictory, but exercise really can help you to fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep. And when you sleep well, you feel more refreshed, awake and motivated the next day. It's a constant cycle, but a rewarding one at that. (4,5)
- Jackson, E. M. (2013). Stress relief: The role of exercise in stress management. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 17(3), 14-19.
- Naik, G. S., Gaur, G. S., & Pal, G. K. (2018). Effect of modified slow breathing exercise on perceived stress and basal cardiovascular parameters. International journal of yoga, 11(1), 53.
- Liu, P. Z., & Nusslock, R. (2018). Exercise-mediated neurogenesis in the hippocampus via BDNF. Frontiers in neuroscience, 12, 52.
- Reid, K. J., Baron, K. G., Lu, B., Naylor, E., Wolfe, L., & Zee, P. C. (2010). Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep medicine, 11(9), 934–940. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2010.04.014