You don’t have to be an elite professional athlete to reap the benefits of sport and physical exercise. The simple act of moving your body – in whatever way you are able to do so – does wonders for your mental wellbeing, your productivity, and your mood.
Moving for mental health
Anyone who has a regular exercise routine can tell you: physical activity just makes them feel better. Whether it’s a morning run, a short yoga session, a few laps of the pool or even just a walk around the block with their dog – people that engage in exercise on a regular basis have overall better mental health than those who don’t.
It isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s one that is becoming increasingly better understood. The benefits of exercise are multiple, and different factors play into the ways that physical activity can improve your mood. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that work to make us feel happier and more fulfilled, like endorphins and serotonin. So even if you’re in a negative headspace before going for that bike ride, chances are you will feel better afterwards without having thought about it at all – your brain does all the work for you.
Regular exercise has been repeatedly shown to reduce stress and can assist with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Physical activity helps people to get out into the world and to interact with others, so it can also reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation – something we’ve all come to know more about in 2020.
Better in business
If you asked the average person to make a list of things they can do to enhance their career, chances are that exercise wouldn’t be on there. But it’s actually one of the most important things you can do to increase your performance at work.
Physical activity improves cognitive function, meaning that when we take the time to move our bodies, we’re preparing our brains to be sharper when we get into the office. Exercise pumps blood to the brain and helps you think more clearly.
Your ability to retain and recall information can improve with exercise too – so you’ll be able to hold all the complex moving parts of a big project in your head. In the longer term, exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory. It also increases the connections between nerve cells in the brain, improving memory and protecting your brain against injury and disease.
The benefits of getting plenty of good quality sleep is becoming more understood, and most of us are conscious of making the time for proper snoozing. But with the pressures of the day in your head, falling asleep can be tricky.
Recent research from Johns Hopkins Centre for Sleep confirmed that exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality. It increases the amount go slow wave sleep you get, or the kind of deep sleep that allows the brain and the body a chance to rejuvenate. Because of the mood stabilising effects of sleep, exercise also contributes to the cognitive processes that are important for naturally transitioning into sleep – so you won’t spend a lot of time tossing and turning with a head full of worries.
Stronger body, longer life
Everyone knows that exercise is good for your body as well as your mind, but did you know just how much it can benefit you?
Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day can reduce your risk of serious illnesses such as heart and lung disease, diabetes and cancer. It can lower your blood pressure and keep it at a healthy level. It can prevent degenerative conditions within the brain, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
And the good thing is, it’s never too late to reap the rewards. People who are recovery from physical injury or illness, or living with some of these conditions, can benefit from exercise too. Physical activity is an important part of rehabilitating from a physical trauma and can even help people recover from a stroke. For those who are living with conditions such a dementia, it slows the progress of the disease and enhances your quality of life.