You’ve heard all about how getting more exercise, spending less time sitting, and getting more active can improve heart health, lower your chances of getting a number of diseases, and lower the risk of death. In fact, new research has yet again been released confirming this.
But did you know that increasing physical activity can make your mind healthier? Seriously—this isn’t an April Fool’s joke.
What do you do when you feel good? Maybe you dance around your house a little—I sure do. Likewise, when you’re sad or depressed you may find yourself moving a little more slowly. And by that same token, when you’re anxious your heart rate may race and lead you to become skittish, or have the opposite effect and paralyze you completely. At the end of the day, mood affects movement.
But this relationship is a two-way street. There is plenty of research indicating that your movements can also affect how you think and feel—they can actually change your brain for the better. If you’re feeling down, performing some activity can help bring you back up!
Here’s an example. Say an anxious person notices an increase in their heart rate, which triggers those feelings of worry and anxiety. If they were to engage in aerobic exercises, such as walking, cycling, or jogging, they can reduce their anxiety by building a tolerance to elevated heart rates. That rapid heartbeat mimics the feeling of anxiety, and this effect can also help control the brain’s “fight or flight” reactions to stressful situations. In order to get full benefit for your brain, try to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity five days per week.
Resistance training (with weights, bands, or just body weight), flexibility training, and balance-based training can help alleviate depressive symptoms, and can even work as well as medication and psychotherapy. Some research indicates that it works by increasing BDNF brain proteins to improve mood. Try to do some form or combination of resistance, balance, or flexibility training three or four times a week for 30 to 45 minutes per session.
Yoga and tai chi are also shown to alter mood by hampering depressive symptoms. These meditative movements allow you to get in tune with the space around you, your own physicality, and your mood. The breathing methods and slow movements can reduce stress and lead to feelings of well-being. If you can, take 20 minutes per day to meditate. If you can’t, aim for three or four sessions per week.
You can experience great mental benefits by practicing these activities on your own, but you can enhance the effects by doing it with a partner. Exercising in unison is shown to improve self-esteem and confidence, and can help build relationships.
If you want to improve your mind and body, shut down this computer right now and go for a walk around the block!