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The importance of exercise

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You have probably heard by now that exercise is good for you, but you may not understand what the benefits are or what kinds of exercise to do. Whether you are already an avid exerciser, you are contemplating beginning a routine or you are considering resuming an exercise routine, read on for the many benefits of exercise and the role it plays in stress, depression and overall physical and mental health.

Your brain on cardio:

Exercise brings extra blood to your brain (a good thing), which helps it regulate oxygen and glucose. Hormones rush to you brain and mix with a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is implicated in learning, mood regulation, and in the growth of brain cells. A clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Dr. John J. Ratey, stated that “BDNF is like fertilizer for the brain. Without it, our brains can’t take in new information or make new cells.” Exercise also sends a signal to the brain to release critical hormones such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These hormones help regulate mood, attention, learning perception, motivation and arousal. A study from the International Journal of Workplace Health found that people who exercised during their workday were 23% more productive that those who did not exercise on those days. Good stuff!

Exercise’s effects on stress:

Exercise helps our bodies respond better to stress by increasing the production of certain feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain called endorphins (MayoClinic). Regular exercise can help increase self-confidence and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Being too stressed also can disrupt sleep, but exercise can help you manage stress better and improve your sleep.

Exercise and depression:

Many studies indicate that people who exerciseregularly benefit with a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression. The release of endorphins can help improve self-esteem, a key psychological benefit of regular physical activity. Research has shown that exercise is an effective but often underused treatment for mild to moderate depression (American Psychiatric Association, Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Major Depression, 2000; Cleveland Clinic Center for Consumer Health Information: "How Does Exercise Improve Depression?")

Exercise also has these added health benefits (WebMD):

  • Strengthens your heart.
  • Increases energy levels.
  • Lowers blood pressure.
  • Improves muscle tone and strength.
  • Strengthens and builds bones.
  • Helps reduce body fat.
  • Makes you look fit and healthy.

So get out there and exercise, but always remember to consult with your physician prior to beginning an exercise program. Some types of exercise might not be possible for people with certain physical injuries and ailments.

For more information:

APA Help Center

MayoClinic

WebMD

Women’s Health Magazine

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