Written By: Rebecca Goodrich MS, RDN, LDN
How many times have you read about exercising and the health benefits it has on the body? I’m sure we can both agree to the answer being “numerous times.” It is so often that we hear how working out will make us slimmer or that it will help us lose a certain amount of weight in a specific number of days. Well, guess what? That’s not what it’s all about! Exercising can provide us with a host of benefits from increasing energy levels to mental health benefits. In this blog, we will go a little deeper on those benefits so that we can get a clearer understanding of why exercising is not just about that silly number on the scale.
Increases Cognitive Health
Have you ever told yourself after an AWESOME workout how much you regretted doing that? I’m just going to assume here and say no, you haven’t. It’s no secret that after a workout we feel energized and ready to go. Whether your workout involved a walk around the park, a jog on the track, or a long yoga session, you’ll still feel good! Research has shown that by incorporating physical activity into your lifestyle, acute stress is decreased from both a psychological and physiological standpoint (1). Have you ever felt “sharper” or even felt that your attention span seemed to have improved after a workout? Some studies have also suggested that physical activity has been shown to decrease the onset of certain diseases that can affect the brain. The question is how and why? Exercise increases neuroplasticity and can therefore delay and even prevent cognitive decline (1).
Do you ever feel PUMPED after a workout? You know, the feeling you get where you are so ready to take over the world? If you said yes to that question, share your tips with us! We can thank our neurotransmitters for this one by the way. Exercising increases epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine which have shown to play a role in mood effects and cognition (1). Exercise has also shown to improve mental health in many ways through social interaction, decreasing anxiety attacks, increasing self-esteem, and stabilizing moods as mentioned previously. Incorporating just 5 minutes of physical activity will get these feel-good hormones working.
We know how important sleep is for our bodies when it comes to recuperating and recovering. We also know what it feels like to sleep poorly and how our day can be affected by this as well as our health. According to The National Sleep Foundation, incorporating physical activity may improve insomnia and better sleep quality. Exercising provides us with the positive effects that it has on decreasing anxiety and depression. It’s important to note that you don’t need to engage in vigorous physical activity to reap the benefits of a better night’s sleep. Incorporating moderate-intensity exercises such as walking can improve quality of sleep. Dust off those old walking shoes of yours and go outside!
Improves Social Skills
The beauty of exercising is that there are no rules. Exercising can be done alone or in a group setting. Joining a league such as kickball or a club team such as water polo can allow you to get out of your comfort zone and meet new people. This can be a great way to form new relationships and to learn about other people. Perhaps joining a gym or engaging in group activities such as CrossFit can allow you to work on those social skills while also performing individually. Once we can safely do so, group hikes can also be a great way to meet new people. While it may be challenging to engage in these activities at the moment, there is always room for creativity!
Exercise has been well known for its health benefits. While we know exercise can help with weight loss, it can also prevent many chronic conditions that don’t necessarily have to coincide with weight. Some of these examples include metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. These chronic conditions can be prevented by incorporating regular physical activity into your lifestyle. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), adults aged 18-64 should engage in at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity activities (walking, biking, dancing, etc.) or 75-150 minutes of vigorous activity (running, speed walking, swimming, etc.). Strength training can also provide added benefits to your routine.
As explained previously, exercising can be beneficial to us not only from a preventative standpoint but from a mental health standpoint as well. Remember that just going outside for 5 minutes can release those feel-good hormones to get you energized and ready to go for the day! Incorporating a healthy lifestyle not only involves physical activity but also emphasizes the importance of sleep quality, managing stress levels, and fueling your body with nutrition. For more information on creating long-lasting healthy habits, please visit Meta Nutrition.
- Basso, J, C. and Suzuki, W. A. The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathwas: A Review (2017); 2(2)127-152. https://doi:10.3233/BPL-160040