Exercises for the Mind and Body
The benefits of exercise on mental health have been well documented. First and foremost, the sense of achievement people feel after completing an exercise can also boost their self-esteem, which reduces instances of anxiety, depression, and negative moods. Additionally however, there are some more tangible, chemical benefits. As explained by The Primary Care Companion, for instance, exercise improves mood by increasing blood circulation in the brain, which in turn improves the brain's ability to react to stress.
Given the nature of these benefits, it's fair to argue that virtually all exercises have positive effects on mental health. For those who are just beginning to explore all of this though, simple, accessible exercises may be best to start with. Below we've compiled a few such exercises you can try to give your mind and body a boost.
"Meditation, Journaling, and Other Ways to De-Stress," an article published here at Carol Michaels Fitness, lists walking as one of the most powerful ways to reduce stress. And the great thing about this exercise choice is that you don’t need to do it for very long to reap its mood-enhancing benefits. Short, 10-minute walks can be just as effective for your mood as long ones. that said, it's best to make a habit of your walks if you can. That way, every day you have an easy path to a mood boost –– even if it just comes via treadmill, or walking your dog down the street and back.
The practice of yoga involves moving your body through a series of poses, and controlling your breathing to promote a wealth of benefits. The physical movements improve balance, strength, and flexibility, while the breathing sequences provide a boost to circulation and reduce stress. Aside from being good for improving mood and relieving stress, yoga is also known to improve brain function. CNBC ran a post by one Neha Goethe of the University of Illinois exercise psychology lab to explain this per in detail, and it's really quite something. Essentially, yoga improves functioning in the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortexes, which are the parts of the brain responsible for memory, information processing, and emotional regulation.
Another beginner-friendly, low-impact exercise you can try is tai chi. Like yoga, tai chi involves moving through a slow series of gentle movements. Health and wellness website SymptomFind recently wrote about tai chi for seniors in particular, and in doing so explained that the main goal of the exercise is to generate positive internal energy. This is done through controlled movements and breathing, much like in yoga, and the results can include reduced stress and anxiety.
If you want a more fast-paced workout, cycling is a good, accessible choice. According to an article at Elite Daily, regular cycling can help regulate the body’s levels of adrenaline and cortisol, which are hormones commonly associated with stress. Additionally, like most exercises, cycling promotes the production of the "happy hormones" serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Cycling also boosts blood circulation in the brain, which can help protect it from common problems associated with aging, such as dementia.
When you really think about it, the best thing about exercise is that its benefits are widespread and multifaceted. Just as exercises improve your physical strength, endurance, and/or flexibility, they can also improve your mental fortitude and cognitive functioning. Simple, accessible exercises like walking, yoga, tai chi, and cycling can ease people into the habit of exercising regularly so as to recognize all of these benefits sooner rather than later.
By guest author Mel Schultz