Apart from improving your physique and physiology, it is a known fact that exercise and other forms of physical activity like Yoga, Martial Arts, Kickboxing or Running can significantly improve your mental health and arrest mental decline as you age. Remember as you grow older your mental capacities also continue to decline and if you are aware of this natural phenomenon you will ensure that you are more committed to regular exercise. Amongst the more notable mental health benefits are the a reduction in anxiety and depression, decreased reactivity to stress and improved cognition.
Exercise Reduces Stress. Period.
Stress is increasing among Indians due to increased work load, pressure, debts and mortgages for homes and cars, children’s education expenses as well as unrealistic expectations of organizations that they work for. All this is a recipe for increased stress that can potentially cripple or even kill you! Most people living in India’s big cities experinece episodic and sometimes extended stress-related symptoms during the course of their lives. Do you know anyone who lives a healthy lifestyle and religiously works out or is committed to Yoga? Well then the chances are that they are in all probability addicted to the rush that exercise provides. Factor in the fact that those two hours of physical activity daily can keep stress at bay and it is a big enough incentive for them to continue participating in their daily training program.
Why Does Exercise Reduce Anxiety
There are a number of explanations for the stress-reducing effects of exercise. One of them is the rhythmic nature of many forms of physical activity. Most people find that walking, running, cycling or lifting weights at a steady pace for a period of time helps to promote mental and physical relaxation. Aerobic routines and Zumba routines are performed by participants to a beat. Biological processes happen as an aftermath. A number of studies have also revealed that exercise alters the activity of the frontal part of the brain so that left frontal activation of the cerebral cortex is elevated thus enhancing mood. Another possible reason for stress reduction has been termed as the thermogenic effect. According to this effect based on work with animals, heat production during exercise leads to a cascade of events within the body leading to relaxation. Also the relaxing effects from the natural release
of beta endorphin during exercise are maintained for quite some time after exercise. It is also equally important to note that exercise may take place either in a social context or in relative independence from others where a person may exercise on their own or with the help of a personal trainer. In both cases, the exercise session tends to provide a time out from the daily concerns of life. Interacting with others at the gym or yoga studio or small chit chat with a personal trainer can involves meaningful social interaction that helps in alleviating stress. There is one more important fact that contributes to a feeling of wel-being and i.e. a feeling and sense of mastery or self-efficacy that can alter how a person feels after a bout of exercise.
Exercise for Anti-Depression
Exercise is the cheapest form of cure for Depression with zero side effects when compared to psychotherapy, drugs or electroconvulsive shock. The negative side effects of drug treatment for depression includes the high cost, weight gain, and suicidal thoughts, as well as several other physiological effects such as muscle spasm and heart arrhythmia. Contrast that with the side effects of exercise that are universally desirable. Lets look at the side effects of exercise 🙂
- Reductions in body fat
- Improved heart health
- Reduction of high blood pressure,
- Reduction in probability of certain cancers,
- Reduction in arthritis, as well as
- Reductions in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Now wouldn’t all these side effects be absolutely desirable?! Because many people have episodic bouts of depression over stressful events in their lives, exercise appears to offer an appropriate and effective means of coping and feeling better.
Exercise for Cognitive Benefits
What is cognition you may ask. Well, Cognition consists of all the things that make us function as intelligent, smart and creative human beings and help us maintain our relationships with our loved ones as well as earn money and have a great career! Now would you want any of these abilities to decline with age? Well regular exercise can help you stave off age-related cognitive decline. Cognition consists of memory, analytical thinking, planning, focus, concentration, and decision making. Those who are physically fit function more effectively than less physically active people on tasks involving such intellectual demands. And these these outcomes are particularly impressive in men and women who are older (i.e., 55 and older) because it is at this age that people typically show some degree of cognitive decline in specific functions due to the aging process.In fact if you are fit in your sixties chances are you will outsmart even guys who are younger but not physically active!
In one study, men in their 60s who were physically fit achieved better mental performance on a complex battery of cognitive challenges than did sedentary men much younger than them. The older men who were physically fit performed similarly to a group of younger college-going youngsters while obviously outperforming the sedentary men of their own age group who had obviously aged beyond their years.
Tania Verma is the co-founder of Wellintra Fitness and an avid Yoga and Martial Arts Fitness Trainer and Practitioner. Tania lives in Mumbai and New York City.