What are the mental benefits of exercise?

April 18, 2015

Q: I have been working out for the majority of my life, and I can honestly say that I have never been bored with the physical challenges of staying in shape. However, I’m surprised at how many people view working out as purely physical and fail to realize the benefits it can have on the mind. I firmly believe that working out has a therapeutic effect that has a great positive effect on my state of mind. I was wondering if you could explain your thoughts on this issue. Thanks.

A: Everybody knows that lifting weights will give you bulging biceps, but few people know the positive effects it has on your state of mind. As an avid weightlifter, I too have benefited greatly from working out, and I believe the mental effects are just as great as the physical. Here are just a few biological reasons that explain why this is true.

Stress relief

Have you ever had one of those days when you feel like you might just snap?Well, a trip to the gym could be just what the doctor ordered to help you relax and be your pleasant self again. Studies prove that working out regularly increases the release of serotonin, a chemical responsible for lifting your spirits and allowing you to get rid of stress, like water rolling off a duck's back. So if you find yourself in a stressful situation, take some time to do something physical, and relief may come quicker than you think.

Increased energy levels

Ask any runner why they spend so much time pounding the local roads, and they’ll be sure to tell you they do it for the runner's high they get from working hard.

This is because frequent exercise causes the release of chemicals called endorphins that provide a feeling of euphoria and pain relief that can give you a natural high comparable to using prescription drugs without negative side effects.

Better sleep

If sleeping is a problem, weight training can be the answer, because it helps balance dopamine levels - a chemical in the body that helps regulate sleep, allowing you to get good shuteye on a consistent basis. In addition, working hard at the gym after a long day's work can be exhausting and will have you counting sheep in no time flat instead of tossing and turning.

Improved self confidence

If you like what you see when you look in the mirror, you will be more confident in every aspect of your life, and you will carry yourself differently than if you were insecure about your appearance. People who work out tend to be more confident at work, home and in social situations because they are more comfortable in their own skin. They also understand that hard work can achieve results even when it doesn’t come easy and are less likely to give up on their goals.

In fact, it has been said that if exercise were a drug it would be one of the most powerful medications on earth, and the best part about it is it’s free of charge. So don’t always get hung up on the physical effects like weight loss and a smaller waist size, because there are incredible mental effects that make working out well worth the effort. However, I must caution you to proceed slowly because working out, getting in shape and feeling good about yourself can be highly addictive.

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