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Mental Benefits of Exercise 

Sally Perkins looks at the many mental benefits of exercising.

Sometimes, it is not a lack of strength, flexibility, or time that is our biggest hurdle when it comes to exercise; instead, it is the lack of that critical quality called motivation. The very best sports coaches know just as much about psychology, as they do about endurance, technique, and tactics. They know how to help you overcome fear, laziness, and tiredness, and to interest you in exercise for reasons you may not have even been aware of. For instance, you may know that regular workouts can tone you up and help you build muscle, but did you know they also have powerful mental benefits for people of all ages?

Exercise and the Brain

Studies have shown that people who exercise in their senior years can protect their brain against age-related changes. Psychologists and neuroimaging experts at the University of Edinburgh found that those aged 70+ who exercised regularly had less brain shrinkage than those who are not physically active. More significant brain shrinkage is linked to memory, and cognitive problems, leading researchers to conclude that exercise is a powerful way to keep the brain healthy.

Exercise vs Depression

People who exercise have better mental health. A recent study relied on MRI images to find that intense exercise increases levels of important neurotransmitters, which drive communications between the brain cells that are responsible for our physical and emotional health. Depression is often characterised by depleted neurotransmitters, which return to normal when mental health is restored. Exercise is also a powerful, natural, and affordable antidote to anxiety. As noted by Jasper Smits, an expert in anxiety, "Exercise can fill the gap for people who cannot receive traditional therapies because of cost or lack of access, or who do not want to because of the perceived social stigma associated with these treatments."

A landmark study published in October 2017 in the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that just one hour of exercise a week (which is too little to obtain cardiovascular and strength benefits) can deliver significant protection against depression.

Exercise Improves Memory

Last year, research by scientists at The University of Texas showed that while cognitive brain training improves executive function, aerobic activity boosts memory. The researchers noted that this was one reason why exercise should be pursued throughout one's lifetime - even adults without dementia can have positive changes in the brain, especially in their memory and executive function (planning and problem solving) skills, after regular exercise. From the age of 20, we lose up to 2% of brain blood flow - the latter can be increased by 8% through exercise alone.

The benefits of exercise are numerous - our favourite workout is not only enjoyable, but also a free, natural way to keep stress, anxiety, and depression at bay. Exercise can also help us fight against the changes that take place in our brain when we age since it boosts our memory and executive functioning skills.

Page Reference

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  • PERKINS, S. (2017) Mental Benefits of Exercise [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Sally Perkins is a professional freelance writer with many years' experience across many different areas. She made a move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family, and travelling as much as possible.