Few can deny the physical upside of working out regularly, but there are also several important mental benefits of exercise. This article examines some of the more obvious as well as perhaps lesser known reasons for hitting the track or gym a couple times a week.
Five Mental Benefits of Exercise
These mental benefits of exercise intersect to some degree, and there are more fringe benefits not listed, but here are five big ones:
Insufferable coworkers, a pompous boss, and riding the bus with school kids is enough to get you in a state where you'd rather just punch someone. Give all this negative energy a positive outlet by pumping iron for a while. Afterwards, you can interact with family and friends like a human being again, which is just as important as the physical health benefits in the big picture.
These days, clinically depressed patients are almost always prescribed plenty of exercise. Sure, "happy pills" can take the edge off a bad depression, but it also comes with side effects -- the exact opposite of the impact of exercise-based treatment. You don't have to be truly depressed to reap these benefits, though. In fact, if you're merely feeling a bit blue and can't seem to snap out of your funk, odds are a brisk walk or run, or a few hard sets of tennis will hit the reset button quite nicely.
Being active inevitably builds certain 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, you will experience temporary setbacks and disappointments, and 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.
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 or revive missed opportunities at work by obsessing about them at 2 AM, yet that is often what people end up doing. Not only does exercise provide a direct outlet for that pent-up stress as outlined earlier, but you also get the immediate, tangible effect of physical tiredness. 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.
Continuing on the previous point, it may seem like a paradox, but you actually get more energized the more energy you use. Not short-term, of course, but over the span of months and years. It's kind of like the old chestnut of having to spend money to make money -- but it's true, as your body is remarkably adaptive and soon adjusts to a certain activity level once you've made it a habit. This energy is as much mental as physical, making it a win-win scenario all around.