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Top 5 ways exercise can improve the way you feel and think.

16/01/2015

Five ways exercise can improve your health

We’ve long been told that physical activity is good for our physical state, but taking part in a regular physical activity regime, can also do wonders for our emotional wellbeing – our mood, stress levels, quality of Life, and cognition.  

Here are the top 5 ways that exercise can improve the way you feel every day.

1. Stress Relief

Anxiety affects millions of people worldwide. Anxiety comes in a number of forms ranging from general and social anxiety disorders, to panic attacks and posttraumatic disorders. Exercise has been found to reduce the symptoms associated with these forms of anxiety(1). Did you know that forming a habit which involves intense exercise for 20 minutes three times a week may reduce long term anxiousness(2)?

2. Natural Mood Booster

Over 340 million people are said to be affected by some form of depression globally, and women are almost twice as likely to develop depression in their lifetime(2). Studies have found that sedentary lifestyles are a significant risk factor for the symptoms that characterise depression(1,2). It is suggested that by exercising you are able to decrease depressive symptoms, and subsequently improve your mood by increasing the ability for our brains to create more neurons and connections and release neurotransmitters such as serotonin and endorphins(2). Exercising also controls many receptors in the brain which improve your mood and the “feeling of wellbeing”. So if you feel like you’ve been feeling down recently, explore some different exercises you can do. It could be as simple as going for a walk in the sunshine.

3. Improving memory and attention

Physical activity may slow down the rate of age related cognitive decline. In a study of 766 women aged 70-81 years of age, those who were the most active had a 20% lower risk of developing cognitive impairment within their lifetime(1). In addition, there was a highly significant difference in working memory and attention, between women who took part in differing amounts of physical activity, with women who were the most active having a higher working memory and better attention than those who were the least active(1). So when they said “go for a run to clear your head”, maybe they were onto something?

4. More restful sleep

Exercise is endorsed by the American Sleep Disorders Associations, and is considered an alternative to pharmaceutical drug interventions to improve sleep. Regular exercise is usually recommended as a therapy if you are having difficulties sleeping. For example, exercise late at night has been suggested to aid sleep, rather than being stimulating enough to keep you awake at night(4). In a study looking at participants who had good sleeping patters small improvements in both sleep duration and sleep quality were noted when the amount of exercise was increased(5).

5. The type of exercise doesn’t matter

Try being unconventional with your exercise regime, you will still notice the benefits. Whether you go for a run, a walk or take part in Hatha Yoga or African dance, the psychological benefits to your wellbeing will still be more noticeable than if you are sedentary. A study looking at the psychological benefits in 69 participants randomised into African dance, Hatha Yoga and a control group (classroom lecture) found that those participants in the African dance and Hatha Yoga group perceived significantly less stress and improved psychological well-being than those in the control group(1).

So remember if you are feeling down, stressed, anxious or moody, before reaching for the pharmaceutical drugs, try increasing your energy expenditure. All that might be required to get you out of your lull is a run, some yoga or perhaps some African inspired dancing if that’s your thing.

References

1) Penedo F, Dahn J. Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry 2005, 18:189-193.

2) Carek P, Laibstaid S, Carek S. Exercise for the treatment of depression and anxiety. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 2011, 41(1): 15-28

3) Weuve J, Kang J, Manson JE, Breteler MB, Ware JH, Grodstein F. Physical Activity, Including Walking, and Cognitive Function in Older Women. JAMA. 2004;292(12):1454-1461. doi:10.1001/jama.292.12.1454.

4) Atkinson G, Davenne D. Relationships between sleep, physical activity and human health. Psychology and behaviour 2007: 229-235

5) King AC, Oman RF, Brassinton GS, Bliwise DL, Haskell WL. Moderate-intensity exercise and self-rated quality of sleep in older adults. JAMA 1997 277(1):32-7

 By Vazishta Antia


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