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Regular exercise can benefit our mental health

Dr. Dharmakanta Kumbhakar

Regular exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. A consistent 30-minute daily exercise not only improves our physical health and decreases excess body fat, but also improves our mental health by improving the brain health and function. Exercising daily can boost our mental well-being and help to deal with everyday stress. Here are some ways in which regular exercise can benefit our mental health and make us happier.
Exercise improves our overall mood:
A consistent 30-minute daily running on the treadmill or jogging can calm us down and transport us into a happier frame of mind. It has been scientifically established that sweating it out releases endorphins (feel-good hormones) in the brain that elevate the mood and make us feel happy. By being active with regular exercise, we are less likely to be depressed. Research has proven that regular exercise is as effective as an antidepressant in managing depression and anxiety.
Exercise helps us to stay positive:
When our minds are idle, we tend to waste our energy in unconstructive thoughts. This lowers our morale and makes us negative. Instead, using this time to work out at the gym or cycle along the countryside can broaden our outlook and our mind does not indulge in pessimistic thoughts. Exercising regularly at the outdoors gets us out of the house, makes us enjoy the world around us, and forces us to focus on the positive aspects of our life.
Exercise beats stress:
It is a proven fact that stress is a major reason for serious illnesses like cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and stroke. Running a few kilometres every day can reduce our stress levels and calming our inner fears. Intense physical workout increases the levels of norepinephrine (the stress buffer) in our body so that our brain can respond to stress without getting panicky. Running can counter Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and help calm us down when we feel anxious.
Exercise boosts brain power and efficiency:
Aerobic exercises increase the supply of blood and oxygen to every part of our body, most importantly to our brain, thus, improving its efficiency. A study revealed that a session of intense aerobic activity promotes neurogenesis (production of new brain cells) and improves our concentration. Intense workout is also known to stimulate the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein in the brain that prevents the degeneration of brain cells. This leads to improved decision-making, thinking, reasoning, and learning ability.
Exercise improves memory and cognitive function:
Researchers have proved that following a consistent exercise regimen improves the blood supply to the brain and positively influences our cognitive function. As we age, the hippocampus (part of the brain that stores memories) shrinks naturally and we tend to become forgetful. Working out at the gym triggers the production of cells in the hippocampus and, therefore, reverses the volume loss of brain cells. This results in improved memory and cognitive function.
Exercise pumps up our creative quotient:
Regular exercise can enhance creative thinking. Regular exercise has positive effects on convergent and divergent thinking, which are the two crucial components of creativity. Moreover, exercising focuses our attention on the problem and helps us come up with creative solutions.
Exercise makes us more confident:
Regular exercise offers positive psychological benefits, such as enhanced self-esteem. Exercise makes us feel good about ourselves, gives us a sense of achievement and boosts our self-worth. Any kind of exercise can make us feel good, whether it is swimming, cycling, hiking, or canoeing, and staying active can work wonders for our confidence. Creating a regular exercise regimen and adhering to it, can make us feel motivated.
Exercise enhances sleep quality:
Exercise is an attractive alternative to the various medications available to treat insomnia. Sleep medications come with a number of side-effects and are not recommended for long-term use due to their addictive potential. In sharp contrast to sleeping pills, regular exercise is a simple, an effective, and a safe way to improve our sleep quality.
(Dr. Dharmakanta Kumbhakar is a medical doctor in Gauhati Medical College and Hospital. He can be reached at 9864517168 or by e-mail at drkdharmakanta@yahoo.com)