Exercise is most associated with helping to keep the body in good physical shape – it can lower blood pressure, burn calories, maintain heart health and keep joints supple. Yet, the benefits of exercise can extend to promoting a healthy mind as well.
With increased awareness of maintaining good mental health, more of us are turning to exercise to keep our brains in fine fettle. There are lots of ways that exercise can clear the mind and keep it sharp, and you don’t need to invest in expensive gym memberships to reap the rewards. Even a simple stroll, bike ride or gardening session can flood the brain with goodness.
Exercise can keep your mind in great shape, as it releases a whole heap of feel-good hormones into your system. These happy chemicals can keep you relaxed and calm, reduce stress and anxiety levels, and may even diminish the symptoms of depression. When your mind is free from troubling thoughts, you can think clearer, concentrate better and you are more able to make the right types of decisions.
Research has also shown that exercise can help to build neural pathways in the brain, as well as boost blood flow and regulate hormones. These combined effects can strengthen your brain’s cognitive functions and they may even reduce the risk of memory loss in later life. Plus, exercise can improve your problem-solving skills and boost your creative potential.
Importantly, in this day and age where we lead very busy, active lives, burnout is a regular feature for many people. More of us are turning to meditation and mindfulness approaches that allow us to ‘live more in the moment’. The beauty of exercise is that it can fulfil these aims. When you are pounding the pavement, focusing on reps at the gym or even weeding the garden, you are fully concentrated on the task in hand, which means your brain has no space for anything else. This mind-clearing benefit can even spill over into your physical health, where you can experience lower blood pressure and reduced heart rate.
With many fitness activities taking place outdoors, you can also gain further mind and body benefits from being out in the fresh air. Breathing in the air, listening to the birds singing and feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin can all help to relax the mind and clear negative thoughts as you exercise. These benefits can also extend to improving your self-worth and esteem.
Even better, if you buddy up with a friend or two, you get to enjoy a multitude of social benefits from exercising. For instance, taking a stroll while chatting with a pal can let you talk through any problems you’re experiencing, whilst allowing you to get fit at the same time.
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