With many New Year’s resolutions newly minted in January, this is the time of year where individuals will often make new commitments.
And losing weight, exercise, and personal health is normally on the top of the list.
But as we all know, by March, the enthusiasm that was there in January has already evaporated away. So, staying committed to new habits and hobbies becomes the challenge for every new year.
One way to stay engaged with exercising in particular, it remains important to remember all the benefits it brings . . . particularly in the realm of mental health.
Sure, there’s a lot of focus on the physical benefits of exercise – and there is a long list of these benefits – but the mental health benefits of exercise are often overlooked.
According to author John J. Ratey, M.D., in his 2008 book “Spark,” Dr. Ratey explores all of the positive outcomes of exercise.
“Building muscles and conditioning the heart and lungs are essentially side effects [of exercise],” Dr. Ratey explains. “But the real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best,” he writes.
The author goes on to explain.
“You’ve probably heard of serotonin, and maybe you know that a lack of it is associated with depression, but even more psychiatrists I meet don’t know the rest,” he writes. “They don’t know that toxic levels of stress erode the connections between the billions of nerve cells in the brain or that chronic depression shrinks certain areas of the brain. And they don’t know that, conversely, exercise unleashes a cascade of neurochemicals and growth factors that can reverse this process, physically bolstering the brain’s infrastructure.”
Put simply, exercise isn’t only good for your body, but it is also good for your brain, too.
Dr. Ratey also writes that exercise also has a positive impact on mood, attention, self-esteem, and social skills.
Some of the main mechanisms for this is because your brain releases neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine (among other things) when you exercise and move your body. Moreover, Dr. Ratey asserts that these “feel good” chemicals can help combat depression and anxiety and also have a positive impact on learning and even help treat addiction.
Although simply knowing some of the above information may not be enough for some individuals to keep them motivated to exercise, it certainly doesn’t hurt, either. So, as 2021 kicks off, it may not be a bad idea to remember that when you carve out a few minutes each day to exercise, you are not only helping your physical health, but exercise also has a large impact on your mental health, too.
Ratey, J. J. (2008). Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Little, Brown Spark. New York, New York.