Sure, exercise can improve your physical health, trim your waistline, improve your functional ability and even add years to your life.
But that’s not what motivates most people to stay active.
People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them a huge sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives.
It’s proven — exercise that helps the body also helps the mind!
Regular exercise can have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD and more. It relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better and boosts your overall mood. You don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to feel the benefits. Research shows even small amounts of exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.
Exercise and depression
Studies show exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication — but without the side-effects. A recent study done by the Harvard School of Public Health found running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26 percent. It releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize you and make you feel good. Exercise serves as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
Exercise and anxiety
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. Try exercises where you can focus on the movement and how you feel. By adding this mindfulness element — really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise — you’ll not only improve your physical condition, but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head. Mind body exercise such as tai chi, Pilates or yoga, or simply stretching is a good choice to help with anxiety.
Exercise and stress
Ever noticed how your body feels when you’re under stress? Your muscles may be tense, you may experience body aches or headaches, you may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse or muscle cramps, or even experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea or frequent urination. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better, so does your mind.
Exercise and ADHD
Exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve concentration, motivation, memory and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin levels — all of which affect focus and attention. In this way, exercise works in much the same way as ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.
Kay Benward is an exercise specialist and supervisor at the Sam B. Cook Healthplex Fitness Center. She has been with Capital Region Medical Center for 29 years and inspired many people to lead healthy lives through exercise. She continues to teach classes and enjoys training the mature adult for balance, posture and functional strength, as well as educating her clients, staff and community on exercise as medicine.