How an Active Lifestyle Can Reduce Stress and Lift Your Mood
You already know that physical activity is important for your physical health. But are you aware that exercise exerts a powerful positive influence on mental and emotional health? A large and growing body of evidence points to the following benefits to living an active lifestyle:
Physical activity increases the chemicals associated with feelings of well-being, calm, and even euphoria, such as serotonin, endorphins, brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF), and more. In some cases, exercise has been shown to be as powerful as pharmaceutical antidepressants.
Both short (state) and long-term (trait) anxiety has been shown to lessen as a response to exercise.
Exercise increases cortisol, a stress hormone. Paradoxically, temporary, exercise-induced cortisol increase is associated with an adaptive response to psychological stress.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change, so we can adapt to challenges. It has been shown to increase with exercise, resulting in better self-control, flexible thinking, memory, and stress-coping.
Everything is better after a good night’s sleep! Although the mechanisms involved are not well understood, being more physically active is associated with better quality sleep and less time falling asleep. New research even shows that being physically fit negates some of the negative health outcomes of poor sleep, which will be a relief to those who struggle with insomnia despite an active lifestyle.
Self-efficacy is the confidence that you can achieve goals, exert control over yourself and influence outcomes in your life. When we exercise and experience positive results, we develop a sense of our own inner power. This is the opposite of feeling hopeless, anxious, or defeated, and is associated with mental and emotional wellness.
Foster social contact
Social isolation and loneliness lead to poor health. When we exercise, we have the opportunity to connect with others, whether we engage in group classes, team sports, walk with a friend, or greet the neighbors and their pets. Even if we prefer to exercise alone, improved fitness allows us to engage in a full range of social and vocational pursuits.
Divert negative thinking
Exercise, especially if we are mindful of our movements and breath, focuses the mind on the present moment and away from mental loops and ruminations. This is a powerful mechanism to foster calm, promote sound judgement and decision-making, and cope in the face of challenges.