We live in a society full of endless distractions: the draw of the television screen, the ping of text messages, the promise that this time you’ll win your favourite video game. But these short-lived sources of entertainment and satisfaction do little for our mental health. Indeed, research suggests that our attention spans have shrunk dramatically in the few years since smartphones became mainstream.
We often work with clients who are miserable, overwhelmed, and anxious, but who have no idea why. All too often, a sedentary lifestyle figures prominently in the recipe for unhappiness. With so many distractions, it’s hard to get up and moving, but the benefits far outweigh the small effort you have to put forth. Whether it’s walking your dog, swimming at the local pool, or finally taking up that team sport or dance class you’ve always wanted to pursue, exercise is extraordinarily good for your mental health. Here are five reasons to give it a whirl.
Exercise Can Treat Depression
Think depression means a lifetime of therapy and antidepressants? It might for some people, but exercise is a powerful antidote to the doldrums people with depression frequently experience. Indeed, some studies suggest that exercise is the single most effective treatment for anxiety and depression.
Exercise Makes You Smarter
We have all heard the stereotype of the dumb athlete, but it turns out this notion is nothing more than a fabrication. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, increases neuroplasticity, and could even make you smarter. One recent study, for instance, found that schoolchildren learned more quickly after exercising. Another found that driving a stationary bike for even just 10 minutes improved memory and the brain’s ability to learn.
Exercise Helps You Make Friends
Shared interests are a foundation of many friendships. If you spend all of your time watching television on the couch, it’s tough to meet people, and even tougher to have something to relate to or talk about. Exercise, though, offers a chance to meet like-minded people in a fun and low-pressure environment. If you’re single and looking, you might find your next romance at a yoga class. But even if you’re happily partnered, friendship is a key to mental health. Get out there and get moving, and you may be surprised by how much more social your life becomes.
Exercise Boosts Self-Esteem
We all know that getting the body you want can make you feel better about yourself. You don’t have to shed weight or build muscle to love yourself, though. Exercise boosts self-esteem in several important ways. First, it increases the presence of feel-good endorphins that can break you out of depression and inspire a positive outlook. Second, it shows you what your body can do, inspiring the confidence that comes with self-efficacy. And finally, of course, exercise can help you meet your fitness goals, introducing you to a brand new you.
Exercise Gives You Something to Look Forward To
In our offices, we often work with clients who feel stuck, bored, and deeply hopeless. They worry they have done everything interesting they can, or that the joy of life is far behind them. Having something to look forward to—and ideally, something that challenges you at least a little—is a key ingredient in the secret recipe for happiness. Sure, getting active can be tough at first. But once you find something you love doing, physical activity gives you something to look forward to. If you’re suffering from a bit of existential ennui, there could be no better antidote than getting up off of the couch and moving your body!