There are many physical benefits to exercising regularly. Fitness is good for more than just building muscle and losing weight, though. Your brain also benefits — even changes — in response to movement. Your mental health, work performance, and even romantic relationships could all use a boost only physical activity can provide.
Here are all the ways frequent exercise changes your brain for the better.
1. Fitness boosts confidence
Fitness is about more than lacing up your sneakers and sweating as much as possible. Every step, from gathering your workout gear to pushing yourself through one last set, takes conscious effort — both physically and mentally. While it takes discipline to formulate a consistent workout routine, it can pay off in a big way — beyond building muscle.
Lifestrong.com says the combination of setting and achieving fitness goals and boosting your physical energy levels can create a strong sense of fulfillment. Doing what you know is good for you makes you feel good about yourself. Your brain loves those feel-good hormones! So if you’re having a rough day, a little exercise may be able to shake your insecurity and help you finish your day strong.
2. It prepares your brain for work
Are you having trouble staying focused in your cozy corner cubicle? Consider dedicating part of your lunch break to exercising. According to Business Insider, engaging in physical activity increases blood flow to your brain. As your blood delivers more oxygen to your brain cells, you find it easier to think clearly, make decisions, and focus on tasks.
No more roaming the halls in search of a working coffee machine before your next meeting. Go for a walk. Replace your usual elevator ride with an energizing climb up a couple flights of stairs. Try these quick and easy lunch break workouts to have a more productive afternoon at the office.
3. Exercise makes it easier to remember people’s names
With dementia on the rise, many aging adults turn to supplements and brain-training apps to keep their minds sharp. What you might not know is that 30 minutes of exercise could have a much greater effect on clearing away your brain fog. According to Harvard Health Publications, fitness changes your brain in a way that preserves memory and thinking skills. Regular exercise won’t just keep your heart healthy — it’s possibly essential for long-term brain health.
Physical activity stimulates the release of chemicals in your brain called growth factors. These guys keep your brain cells healthy and plentiful, and promote the growth of new blood vessels in your brain as well. If you exercise regularly, scientists believe the areas of your brain primarily responsible for memory and thinking are larger than those in people who don’t exercise.
4. It calms feelings of anxiety
Poor mental health can significantly diminish your quality of life. People with anxiety disorders often find it difficult to sleep, engage in social situations, and perform academically or professionally without living in a constant state of worry. While many turn to talk therapy and medication to cope with their daily struggles, they don’t realize exercise can play an equally important role in calming the brain down.
Skip caffeine and head straight to the gym if your heart’s already racing and you need relief. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says fitness is one of mental health’s greatest allies. Not only does physical activity relieve stress, but it can also work in tandem with or in place of anxiety medication as part of mental health therapy.
5. It also crushes negative reactions to stress
Exercise is a better stress-reliever than you might think. According to Mayo Clinic, exercise increases your brain’s production of neurotransmitters called endorphins. You might know them as your body’s natural painkillers, but they have other blissful side effects as well. They also trigger positive feelings and help you better handle everyday stressors.
If you really need to de-stress through exercise, choose an activity you’ll actually enjoy — instead of one you’ll dread and despise until the moment it ends. These fun exercises will keep you occupied and entertained while you sweat your stress away.
6. Fitness puts you in a good mood
Did you wake up in a bad mood this morning? A quick jog or a few laps across the pool may turn your frown into a grin. According to the American Psychological Association, fitness has the power to enhance your mood — both in the short- and long-term. Endorphins, the same natural painkillers that offer temporary doses of stress relief, can also induce euphoria.
Larger studies have also suggested long-term mood-enhancing benefits of physical activity. The APA says people who exercise exhibit lower rates of depression than those who are mostly sedentary. People who stop exercising report depressive moods more often than those who maintain a regular exercise regimen.
7. A good mood also preps your brain for romance
Endorphins are useful for a lot of things — stress, anxiety, mood, even sex drive. It’s all connected, and how many “happy” chemicals there are in your brain might impact your ability to perform in the bedroom. According to Health.com, sex drive could be an automatic reflex — as long as you’re in the right mood. Just 30 minutes of exercise can alter your brain for the better, in more ways than one.
Don’t take this concept to the extreme, though. More of a good thing sometimes still ends in disappointment. Too much exercise, Men’s Fitness warns, can affect both men and women physically and psychologically. While just the right amount of physical activity can be a good thing, too little or too much will destroy your desire and put unnecessary strain on your romantic relationships.