Move Your Body to Improve Your Mind

5 Ways Movement Helps Your Mind

Why Movement is Great for Your Mental & Emotional Health

If “exercising more” is one of your New Year’s resolutions, well you’re in luck because it just so happens that exercise is really good for us! (Ha! Of course we know this – note the sarcasm 😉) But not only is it good for our bodies but it’s also good for our brains and mental/emotional wellbeing. So, if on your list of to-dos for 2021 is to move your body more, here is some extra motivation in the form of “The Psychological Benefits of Exercise.” Let’s nerd out together to find out how exercise can help our minds!

5 ways exercise/movement/physical activity can help our mental and emotional wellbeing:

  • Improved Mood
  • Decreased Stress & Reduced Reactivity
  • Increased Self-Esteem & Improved Body Image
  • Improved Memory & Cognitive Function
  • Decreased Anxiety & Depression

Click here for the quick and dirty (infographic) version – – – keep scrolling for a deeper dive into each benefit:

Let’s dive in to each of these benefits:

Improved Mood
  • What do we mean when we talk about “mood?” It is important to define mood versus emotion here before we dive into how it can be improved through exercise.
    • Mood is tricky as it’s a slightly less defined concept than emotion. Emotions are shorter, more intense, usually a response to certain stimuli. While mood is how you “feel”, more diffuse (less specific), longer lasting, often has no trigger.
    • Let’s look at an example: Someone cuts you off in traffic – the emotion you feel – maybe anger – is usually directly correlated to that event/stimulus/trigger. But a “bad mood” that happens as a result of that incident could last all day. You just can’t shake that anger, feeling of upset, and it seeps into the rest of your day.
    • A couple factors that make up mood: valence and activation. Valence is whether or not the mood is positive or negative. Activation relates to energy levels – particularly whether or not energy is low or high (for example – before or after exercise).
  • So, in what specific ways does exercise improve mood?
    • Mood can be improved after just 1 single session of exercise
    • Regular exercise increases the frequency of better moods
    • After an exercise program is established, energy is increased and fatigue is reduced
    • Exercise decreases irritability, tension, anger, anxiety and depression
  • And final note on how exercise improves mood (for those looking to really nerd out on the science) – results from changes in neurobiology/neurochemistry – namely involving: endorphins, endocannabinoids, dopamine, and serotonin
Decreased Stress & Lower Reactivity
  • {Positive} Distraction from stressors
  • Promotes muscle relaxation, reduces muscle tension related to stress
  • Improves rhythmic breathing (more on breathing – techniques and importance – coming soon!)
Increased Self-Esteem & Improved Body Image
  • After regular participation in physical activity or even after 1 session or movement, self-esteem can improve as you feel a sense of accomplishment
  • Body image can improve after regular activity as you notice you are becoming stronger, have more endurance, and increase your physical skills
  • Self-esteem can also improve as the result of being in “a flow state” or “in the zone” – this is the result of just the right mix of challenge to skills of whatever activity you are participating in. If you’re interested in learning more about flow states, let me know as I have a lot more to share on this if want to know more!
Improved Memory & Cognitive Function
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Improved attention, processing speed, executive (conscious control of thoughts/feelings/action) function, memory
  • Improved heart health > better blood flow to the brain
  • Decreased anxiety and depression
  • Reduced systemic inflammation (reduced incidence of metabolic syndrome – diabetes, high blood pressure; visceral fat) > better cognitive function (especially important as we age!) & less brain fog
Decreased Anxiety & Depression
  • Any and all {types and amounts of} exercise is one of the best “treatments” for mild to moderate anxiety – so get moving and chill out 😉
  • Improved self-image
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Improved Mood
  • Lower inflammation
  • Change in neuroendocrine response to stressors
  • Change in endorphins, endocannabinoids, and neurotransmitter pathways

* For mild to moderate anxiety & depression – consult a medical/mental health care professional to treat depression with physical activity alone or in conjunction with medication or behavioral health treatment

Some things to keep in mind…

  • It’s important to manage your expectations if you’re just starting an exercise program
    • Remember that you will get what you expect to get out of it (and anything in life really)
    • Take recommendations from others about what to do and how to do it, but remember that everyone’s experience is different. What works for your best friend may not work for you.
    • Try to let go of any previous negative experiences you’ve had and approach your new activity with an open mind.
  • And watch out for possible negative effects of implementing a physical activity program:
    • Compulsive behavior patterns – Disordered eating or excessive exercise
    • Exercising even if it’s causing you harm – i.e., you are injured but continue exercising anyway to your detriment
    • Working with a coach, trainer, group, or other professional can help you avoid these effects

Now get out there (or stay in if that’s where you exercise) and move your body! On the trail, the sidewalk, the treadmill, the pool, or the gym – never stop moving!

And if you need help with “the how” of implementing for more movement in your life – let me know, I am here to help!

Don’t underestimate the power of exercise along with nutrition and quality sleep – 3 important lifestyle factors – on overall psychological health! More on nutrition & sleep coming soon!

* Note that “exercise” as it’s used here means moving your body – physical activity, movement. I know that often exercise can have a negative connotation, so we want to focus on movement that feels good, that is enjoyable – because when we focus on that type of movement we are more likely to sustain the practice (or that exercise regimen if you will). Social interaction (in “non-COVID times” maybe), time outside, incorporating music/entertainment are a couple ways to increase enjoyment of physical activity and thereby increase the likelihood you’ll sustain the practice.

Source: Psychological Benefits of Exercise, ACE Fitness webinar by Barbara Brehm Ed.D

Want even more tips, tricks, and ideas for living well through nature, nourishment, movement and mindset? You know you do!

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