In our increasingly fitness-conscious world, most people know the physical benefits of exercise, which include weight management, lower blood pressure and better body shape, just to name a few. However, since the mental benefits of exercise – which are as important as the physical ones – are not visible or tangible, they are often forgotten in most health discussions, or when setting fitness goals.

So what are some of the ways in which exercise can affect you mentally?

Helps Control Anxiety and Depression

Physical exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural protection against pain and stress. Moreover, endorphins cause a euphoric “feel good” sensation, which can temporarily kick out depression and anxiety. Therefore, if you exercise regularly, you will be able to control the two conditions effectively.

Reduced Stress

When you exercise, the heart rate increases, which in turn triggers the release of neurohormones. These hormones help in enhancing cognition and overall moods. One example of a neurohormone is norepinephrine, which boosts the brain’s capacity to handle stressful situations, and also helps in reversing stress-induced brain damage.

Additionally, your body considers physical activities as stressful or uncomfortable events, and as a result, key body systems such as the central and sympathetic nervous systems often adjust to combat the physical stress. Over time, this builds and improves the body’s ability to respond to stressful conditions.

Better Self-Esteem and Confidence

As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of physical benefits that you stand to gain from regular exercise. These include improved muscle tone, weight loss and a stronger and more flexible core. When you achieve all these, your self-esteem will naturally shoot up, and you will feel more confident and secure in your body and overall appearance.

Better Sleep

Sometimes, you may find getting a good night’s sleep to be a lot of hassle. Whether it’s because of work stress, financial worries or just a restless mind, an irregular sleeping pattern is something we all have to deal with at one point or another. When you exercise regularly, your body feels tired, and its temperature increases a bit (hence the sweating), which effectively calms your brain, making it easier to fall asleep. Just make sure to not exercise less than two hours before your bedtime, as this could interfere with your circadian rhythm.

Enhanced Brainpower

Various studies suggest that when mice and humans, are exposed to regular cardio exercises, their brains undergo neurogenesis. This is basically a process where the brain develops some new brain cells. The effects of neurogenesis include increased intelligence, better memory and enhanced brainpower.

Physical exercises also inhibits cognitive decline by boosting the overall health of the hippocampus – an area of the brain whose primary function is facilitating memory and learning. Regular exercise also boosts creativity and increases the brain’s energy. If you are a creative experiencing a mental block, a jog through the woods may be all you need to stimulate your brain and get more inspiration.

Sounds good, right?