We hear a lot about the benefits of regular exercise on physical health. But what about the impact of our mental health? For the past decade or so, scientists have pondered how exercising can boost brain function. Regardless of age or fitness level, studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits. However, If you are not into sport your best exercise machine may be your dog. Just taking the dog for a daily walk can yield some surprising health benefits.

Reduces Stress

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Only a ten-minute brisk walk will yield one hour of increased energy and reduced tension, whereas a sugary snack will ultimately result in fatigue and tension. Even a single bout of exercise can be a valuable short-term therapy for reducing depression, tension, anger and confusion. Moderate-intensity exercise is even more beneficial than high-intensity exercise for anxiety reduction. Regular exercise increases the ability to handle stress by causing fewer stress hormones to be released when stress does occur.

Boost Brain Power

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Exercise increases cerebral blood flow, increases neurotransmitter availability and efficiency, and affects brain structure. Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Small increases in aerobic fitness improve mental fitness, particulary executive control function of the brain, which have to do with planning, coordinating, and filtering out distracting information. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed . For this reason, docs recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression. Animal and human studies show that repeated physical activity triggers chemical changes in the brain that inhance learning and memory. Children learn better when the brain is stimulated by exercise. People over 60 who walk rapidly for 45 minutes three times a week can significantly improve mental processing abilities that would normally decline with age.

Improves Mood

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Moderate, regular exercise has a positive impact on mood, vigor, psychological well-being, creativity, and self-esteem in all age groups. Regardless of weight, size, gender, or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person’s perception of his or her attractiveness, that is, self-worth. Students who exercise regularly show lower levels of anxiety, shyness, loneliness, and hopelessness than their less active peers. Hop on the treadmill to look (and more importantly, feel) like a million bucks. 

Help control addiction

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The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, be that exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, or food. Unfortunately, some people become addicted to dopamine and dependent on the substances that produce it, like drugs or alcohol (and more rarely, food and sex). On the bright side, exercise can help in addiction recovery . Short exercise sessions can also effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts, making them de-prioritize cravings (at least in the short term) . Working out when on the wagon has other benefits, too. Alcohol abuse disrupts many body processes, including circadian rhythms. As a result, alcoholics find they can’t fall asleep (or stay asleep) without drinking. Exercise can help reboot the body clock, helping people hit the hay at the right time.

Helps You Sleep

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Exercise can be effective in improving sleep quality, depression, strength, and quality of life. Treating chronic fatigue with appropriate exercise can improve sleep and mood. Exercise can help sleep problems in older adults. Exercise in the evening does not disturb sleep. Moving around five to six hours before bedtime raises the body’s core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep .

Working out can have positive effects far beyond the gym (and beach season). Gaining self-confidence, getting out of a funk, and even thinking smarter are some of the motivations to take time for exercise on a regular basis.

 

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