2020 has been a tough year for all of us, and there’s no sugarcoating the fact that a lot of us are coming into the new year with new-found troubles like difficulty in sleeping and increased stress levels. Worse, there are hardly any distractions we can willingly take to take our minds off the negativity since most travel remains limited, and even leisure activities are now on the down-low.
Luckily, there is still one more thing all of us can do to give our mental health a boost this 2021 – and that’s through exercise.
Here are the best reasons why exercising or working out can do wonders for your mental health:
Helps fight anxiety and depression
Staying active is one way to keep anxiety and depression at bay. The mere act of putting on your sportswear and workout accessories can already put you in a better mood than you were. Sweating it out also releases feel-good endorphins that enhance your overall sense of well-being.
Reduces stress levels
While any kind of exercise can help reduce your stress levels, certain workouts like yoga are best for those who might be suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. If you are constantly bothered by negative thoughts because of something that happened in the past, yoga can help you achieve mindfulness by clearing your mind of negative thoughts and ideas that do not help you move on from what hurt you in the past. Yoga and meditation are all about grounding you in the present, where neither the past nor the future has a hold over you.
Increases self-esteem and confidence
A great side effect of regular exercise is that it helps you achieve a more ideal weight and body shape. This helps a great deal in your self-image and confidence level. It’s true what they say — when you look great, you feel great.
Increases sex drive
Sex drive or sexual function is an aspect of mental health just as much as it is also a part of physical well-being. Regular exercise is known to increase libido for both men and women. At least two and a half hours of exercise can increase testosterone production in men by about 15%. While the benefits are even greater for women! For the sake of argument, the sexual arousal of women is boosted by almost 170% just after 20 minutes of exercise.
Allows for better sleep hygiene
Everyone knows that a good night’s sleep is essential to better mental health. Not getting enough shut-eye affects your mood and your productivity. But not everyone can easily fall asleep at night or get the sufficient 7-8 hours of slumber every day. For those of you who have that kind of issue, at least 30 minutes to an hour of exercise will help with that. Physical activity helps to normalize your circadian rhythm which will make you fall asleep when necessary.
However, don’t do your workouts too close to sleep time because it will have reverse effects. Plus, avoid napping throughout the day if necessary so it’s easier to fall asleep at night.
Boosts brain function
Exercise helps boost brain power, which, of course, is beneficial to your mental health. It helps improve memory and creative power. While at the same time, it can prevent memory loss by continuously engaging the part of your brain that stores long-term memory, aka, the hippocampus.
Best effects take time
If you think the benefits above are not showing up after a day or two exercising, well you don’t have to worry. The advantages of exercising to your mental well-being can be experienced after a while. Research shows that it may take a long time before exercise can improve your mood or help with anxiety or depression, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.
Stick to your workout routine and do not forget to rest to get the full benefits of exercise not just to increase your physical capacity or boost your immunity, but also to help improve your mental health.
Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.
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