Think exercise is all about weight loss? Think again. A surge of scientific research into the links between physical exercise, the brain, and mental health in the last few decades has revealed more and more great reasons to get moving. Below are just some of the ways in which exercise has an impact on how you feel.
1. Research shows that regular exercise (burning around 350 calories three times a week) can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression. In fact, studies have shown exercise programmes reducingsymptoms as effectively as antidepressants. The side effects of exercise are more pleasant too.
2. Stress causes our bodies to show signs of ageing right down to a cellular level. Researchers at the University of California have found that vigorous exercise significantly reduces the signs of ageing on our cells. So after a bad day at work a game of tennis could be a better stress reliever than watching television.
3. Participating in yoga three times per week has a significant effect on the chemicals in our brain associated with depression and anxiety. This makes it a great complement to both pharmacological and psychological therapies.
4. The runner's high is no myth. High intensity exercise such as interval sprinting can lift your mood and leave you feeling uplifted for the rest of the day. But you don't have to be a runner to get the effects. Cycling, swimming, football or tennis will have the same effect. The important part is just to involve bursts of high intensity with short rests in between. Get the heart pumping and the blood circulating and your body will do the rest.
5. Exercise can improve your confidence, but you don't have to wait for radical changes in your waistline to feel it. Studies have found increases in self-esteem and body image just from reaching goals such as lifting heavier weights, running a faster time or winning a game. Furthermore, taking the focus away from weight loss and paying more attention to improving your performance can be much more motivating and enjoyable.
6. Depression has a negative effect on concentration and memory. But a study in Germany found that students scored better on high-attention tasks after doing just 10 minutes of exercise compared to those that did not. Their scores were even better if that exercise was something complicated such as dancing or a racquet sport. This is because complicated activities that require our full attention and hand-eye coordination improve our capacity to learn by enhancing attention and concentration skills.
These are just a few of the ways that exercise influences the way you feel and so, if you do nothing else today, exercise. Any form of activity that gets your heart rate up and makes you feel a little out of breath. If exercise is new to you, visit your GP to get some advice on getting started, or seek out a therapist who can support you in gradually increasing your activity level to help improve your mood.