It’s clear that we can strengthen our bodies by getting plenty of physical exercises, but many people don’t know how to improve emotional health. The good news is that you don’t need to acquire a whole new set of skills in order to become a more emotionally healthy person; physical activity will improve your mental and emotional well-being as reliably as it supports your overall fitness. Here’s how exercise helps you to be more internally balanced, happier and more productive.
How Does Exercise Affect Emotional Health?
Aerobic workouts (in which your breathing and heart rate are substantially elevated) raise the levels of mood-lifting chemicals in your bloodstream. Endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, dopamine; these all contribute to what’s known as “runner’s high.” Our bodies have a natural ability to produce these substances, but stress and inactivity reduce the circulating levels throughout our bodies. Exercise stimulates the glands that produce these important chemicals, and research cited in The New York Times shows that mild to moderate depression can be improved as effectively by exercise as by prescription medication. It’s also good to know that the benefits of physical activity are long-lasting; your sense of well-being won’t diminish once you catch your breath. A Gallup poll showed that people who increased their levels of exercise experienced greater emotional well-being for days and weeks afterward.
Who Benefits from Exercise?
When a therapist prescribes medication for depression or anxiety, the prescription has to be very carefully tailored to each patient. An elderly person suffering from depression and the early stages of Alzheimer’s would receive a very different prescription than a teenager or a woman in menopause. Exercise, however, offers substantial emotional health benefits to people of every age and with every type of depression. The New York Times Health Guide on Physical Activity summarizes a collection of research demonstrating that exercise improves emotional fitness at every stage of life, regardless of the situation.
Does Exercise Improve Relationships?
In addition to alleviating depression and relieving anxiety, exercise also increases social resilience, according to research by The National Institute of Mental Health. The researchers showed that exercise improved the functioning of brain centers that are involved with emotional processing. They demonstrated that increased physical fitness correlates with personal resilience and helps people respond more effectively to overcrowding, bullying and other social stresses.
What Kind of Exercise Is Most Helpful?
According to The New York Times, any exercise that increases your breathing and heart rate is helpful. Before starting an exercise regimen, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to review any cautions or health concerns. You and your doctor can choose a target heart rate, and you can chart your progress by using one of the new high-tech wristwatch heart-rate monitors. Some of these handy devices even have Wi-Fi capacity, so they can send your data to a computer or mobile device and create charts to show how well you’re progressing. Yoga has also been shown to be beneficial, especially for men who need help moderating their levels of anger and stress.
In addition to its direct effects on emotional well-being, physical exercise can also cheer you up through its indirect benefits. Since improved fitness increases your energy, facilitates weight loss and gives you better muscle tone, you get a big self-esteem boost from your stronger, healthier body. When you review the evidence, it’s clear that physical exercise is the magic formula for becoming a healthier human being in all aspects – and the best thing of all is that it’s free.