Exercise is not just an activity to enhance aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your libido and add some much needed years to your life. But that’s not what keeps most active people motivated. Ever wondered why people who exercise regularly have this immense sense of well being? That’s precisely what exercise does to your body! Active people feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have vividly sharp memories, and have a positive and relaxed outlook about themselves and their lives.

It is a given that regular exercise is great for your body and physical well-being. But exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve mental health and has been found to have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD amongst other mental ailments. The best part of using exercise as therapy is that it does not require one to put in added amounts of training into it. Even moderate amounts of exercise can make all the difference no matter what your age or fitness level is.

Exercise and depression

Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication– but minus the side-effects, of course. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing and helps you take charge of your mental and physical health.

“Sticking to a running program is a form of exercising self-control, and self-control is a variable linked with a number positive attributes. Good self-control helps diet-management, job success, sticking to timetables and so on. Poor self-control is associated with a large number of societal problems such as anger and violence. Self-control is improved by training. People should run – it will lead to general happiness and, because of the physiological effects, reduces a whole host of cardiovascular diseases,” Andy Lane, professor of sports psychology at the University of Wolverhampton, told Men’s Running.

Mental health is as important as your physical well-being

Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Firstly, it promotes several changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and develops new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. Secondly, it also releases endorphins, which are chemicals in your brain that energize your mood and make you feel elated. And last but not the least, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet “me time” to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that fuel your depression.

Exercise and anxiety

The focus and the feeling of being in the zone mean your brain is highly sharp and active, and this can help overtime in controlling things like anxiety. “Physical activity is an antidepressant, it’s an anti-anxiety. It serves to reduce anxiety, it increases self-esteem and is a major component of weight loss or weight loss management,” Dr. Kate Hays, the Canada-based sports psychologist behind the firm The Performing Edge, is quoted as saying in Buzzfeed.

When you are out running, try to concentrate on the sensation of your feet hitting the ground or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. By adding this element of mindfulness and really focusing on your body and how it feels when you exercise, you’ll not only improve your physical condition at a faster pace, but you will also succeed at interrupting the flow of constant worries running through your head.

Exercise and ADHD

If you have difficulty in concentration, then exercise id one of the easiest ways to reduce the symptoms and improve not your the ability of your brain to concentrate but it also boosts motivation, memory, and mood. The physical activity that you undertake compells the brain to produce dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention. It works in a very similar manner as ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

Exercise and PTSD and trauma

PTSD or trauma is characterized by a feeling of being “stuck” due to the the crippling stress response induced in the brain after a traumatic incident. Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body through exercise and how it makes you feel, you can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of this immobilization. Incorporate exercise that involves cross movement engaging your arms and legs, so much so that you sidetrack from your thought train and concentrate more on the physical sensations in your joints and muscles.

“Inactivity is associated with many chronic medical conditions, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis. These conditions can add to your feelings of depression and helplessness. Helplessness is an often times expressed feeling of PTSD sufferers. Exercise can release endorphins into your bloodstream that act as the body’s natural painkillers and they make you feel good.” says Carol Woodbury, Vice President of Global Security Services and is Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC).

Next time you feel that the weight of the world is getting you down, take a deep breathe and grab a pair of dumbbells. Exercise might not be the happy pill that makes all your troubles go away, but it definitely will keep you feeling good.

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