Mental Benefits of Exercise

Karen Frazier
Silhouette of jumping person

Few can deny the physical upside of working out regularly, but there are also several important mental benefits of exercise. From relieving stress to increasing self-esteam, lots of great mental health reasons exist for hitting the jogging trail or gym a couple times a week.

Nine Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

There are numerous positive psychological outcomes associated with engaging in regular exercise. A few of the most important include the following:

1. Stress Relief

Whether you have had a bad day at work, feel overwhelmed by financial or family pressures, or are agitated as a result of fighting traffic, the stress you are feeling is very real - and it has a very real impact on your physical and mental well being. Give all this negative energy a positive outlet by pushing iron, doing yoga, or engaging in aerobic activity for a while. These are just a few examples of the ways that exercise can be used to help you relieve stress.

2. Depression Prevention

According to MayoClinic.com, people who exercise regularly also report decreased rates of depression, lowered pain, and less anxiety. Exercise works in this case by increasing endorphins and neurotransmitters, decreasing immune system substances that may make depression worse, and increasing body temperature.

3. Enhanced Mood

Engaging in regular exercises can also help improve your mood according to the Mayo Clinic article cited above. There are many reasons for this, including the facts that exercise leads to an increase of endorphins, helps you better cope with the stressors of daily living, and results in a reduction in anxiety.

4. Confidence Boost

Being active inevitably builds confidence in your physical abilities. If you get stronger in the gym or shave a couple minutes off your jog, you have hard proof that you're capable of meeting and surpassing real goals. If you are able to pull this off in the gym, you can probably do it elsewhere too. Likewise, when you experience temporary setbacks and disappointments in your workout, you learn to overcome them the next time around. This is another area that translates well from the field of exercise to social life or the professional world.

5. Increased Self-Esteem

Exercise can help you control your weight and tone your body. These improvements in your physical appearance that result from exercise can also have a significant positive impact on body image and body satisfaction, both of which lead to an increase in self-esteem. This association has been well documented in numerous studies, including one published in Athletic Insight: The Online Journal of Sports Psychology.

6. Improved Sleep

Insomnia and poor sleep are often related to residual stress that didn't get the needed outlet. You can't fix an overdue credit card bill or revive missed opportunities at work by obsessing about them at 2 a.m., yet that is often what people end up doing. Not only does exercise provide a direct outlet for that pent-up stress, but you also get the immediate, tangible effect of physical tiredness that can help you go to sleep when you need to do so. If you spent the day in an office chair and the evening on the couch, your body never enjoyed real movement. Swim a few dozen laps after work, and at least you will be physically tired when hitting the sack.

7. Better Energy

It may seem like a paradox, but you actually get more energized the more energy you use. This isn't a short-term effect, of course, but over the span of months and years, your body will adjust to your new activity level. You'll have more overall energy, both physically and mentally.

8. Mental Alertness

Many of the other psychological benefits associated with exercise combine to have a positive impact on mental alertness. Because regular exercise can give you more energy, help you sleep better, and provide an increased flow of oxygen to your brain, it can have an impact on how alert you feel.

9. Increased Motivation

As you begin to experience the positive physical, emotional, and psychological benefits from exercise, you are likely to continue exercising in order to continue to realize its positive effects in your life. This increase in motivation can translate to other areas of your daily life as well.

Many Exercise Benefits

These are certainly not the only benefits associated with exercise. There are other positive psychological outcomes, as well as physical and social benefits. The bottom line is clear enough: practically everyone stands to gain from regular exercise, both physically and mentally. What better reason do you need to get moving?

Mental Benefits of Exercise