After a stressful day, the best most men do is pass by a popular bar on their way home to take one for the road and ward off the stress. And when things are sour at home, our dear bottle comes in handy to drown sorrow. But wait a minute; there are better and more beneficial ways to handle the ups and downs of life such as hitting the gym, doing miles on the treadmill and some jogging. 

Regardless of one’s age or fitness level, studies show that exercise comes with some serious mental health benefits. We tell you which…

1. Reduces stress 

It’s been a rough day in the office and the temptation to get into your popular bar to take one for the road to relieve the stress is mounting. Instead, take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout since exercising goes a long way in stress relief. It also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So let’s get sweaty and reduce stress while boosting our body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension.

2. Enhances secretion of “happy” chemicals

Exercising, for instance doing a few miles on the treadmill is hard, but it’s worth the effort. Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. Hence doctors recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those just feeling tired and bored) include a lot of exercise time in their schedule. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression. Don’t worry if you’re not exactly the gym type – feeling happy from working out for just 30 minutes a few times a week can instantly boost your overall mood.

3. Helps control addiction

The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure, whether that of exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol or food. Regrettably, some people get addicted to dopamine and depend on the substances that produce it, like drugs or alcohol and often, food and sex. On a positive note, exercise can help in addiction recovery. Short exercise sessions can also effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts making them de-prioritise cravings, at least in the short term. Alcohol abuse interrupts many body processes including circadian rhythms. As a result, alcoholics often can’t fall asleep (or stay asleep) without drinking. Exercise can help reboot the body clock, helping people sleep at the right time.

4. Improves self-confidence

When you hop onto the treadmill, you feel good about yourself. Basically, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Regardless of weight, size, gender or age, exercise can quickly raise a person’s perception of their attractiveness, in other words, self-worth. That’s a good way of feeling self-love!

To boost your self-love further, get out of the gym and work out outdoors. Exercising outdoors increases self-esteem even more. All you do is to look for an outdoor workout that fits your style; it can be rock-climbing, hiking, or just jogging. Additionally, vitamin D, acquired from being in the sun can lessen the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms. Forget the spa for once and experience the fresh air and sunshine and have your self-confidence and happiness raised.

5. Prevents cognitive decline

It’s unpleasant, but it’s true – as we get older, our brains get a little blurred. As aging and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s kill brain cells, we lose many important brain functions in the process. While exercise and a healthy diet can’t “cure” Alzheimer’s, they can help protect the brain against cognitive decline that begins after age of 45. Working out, especially between the ages of 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.

6. Alleviates anxiety

You may not believe it, but a 20-minute jog is better at relieving anxiety than a warm bubble bath. The warm and fuzzy chemicals released during and after exercise help people with anxiety disorders calm down. Some moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety sensitivity.

7. Boosts brainpower

Various studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells called (neurogenesis) and improves overall brain performance. Moreover, studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF) in the body, believed to help with decision-making, higher thinking and learning. Regular physical activity also boosts the ability to learn new things. When you exercise, there is an increase in the production of cells in hippocampus in the brain responsible for memory and learning. As a result, researchers have linked children’s brain development with the level of physical fitness. Working out can boost memory among grown ups too. One study has shown that sprints improved vocabulary retention among healthy adults.

8. Gets more done

Feeling uninspired in the office? The solution might be just a short exercise or jogging. Studies show that workers who take time to exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their inactive counterparts. True, busy schedules can make it difficult to squeeze in a gym session in the middle of the day, but experts believe that midday is the ideal time for a workout due to the body’s blood circulation rhythms.!

Published in July 2015