Have you ever noticed that, after a good workout, you feel like you’re walking on air? Exercise isn’t just about physical fitness — it’s also great for your mental health and overall well-being.
While the physical benefits of exercise are well known, people tend to underestimate its psychological benefits that also exist. Why does exercise lift your spirits? How does it affect your mental health? How can you achieve a sense of overall well-being? These are the questions we'll attempt to answer. Let’s get started!
Exercise is scientifically proven to produce a feeling of exhilaration. This is because physical activity causes the brain to release endorphins while simultaneously decreasing the body’s stress hormone levels. It takes about 30 minutes of exercise to trigger endorphin release, and the effect is strikingly similar to that of morphine: mild euphoria, reduced pain and fatigue, and reduced stress. This powerful mood boost is pretty effective motivation for making exercise part of your routine.
In addition to triggering the secretion of endorphins and other hormones that stimulate feelings of pleasure and well-being, exercise has other benefits, not least for the brain. By improving oxygen circulation throughout the body, endurance exercise increases oxygen flow to the brain and promotes better brain function. That’s why it’s recommended to take mental breaks throughout the day. For many, taking a break can feel like your wasting time; but whether you’re at the office, at school, or studying for exams, clearing your mind with a bit of exercise will help you to return to your work with more focus. "A sound mind in a sound body": it takes a balance of mental and physical health to achieve overall well-being.
Believe it or not, no drug is more effective at relieving stress than endorphins and dopamine - they’re the body’s very own form of anti-anxiety medication. But how exactly does exercise reduce stress? How do these so-called “happy hormones” affect the brain? Produced during physical activity, these hormones have similar effects to certain drugs. Endorphins are analgesics; they relieve pain, decrease negative emotions, and help reduce stress. Elevated endorphin levels can put you in a euphoric or blissful state, sometimes even causing a floating sensation. It’s a great feeling!
Committing to regular exercise can teach you a lot of life lessons. You learn to set goals and give your all to achieve them. Some days, you may face setbacks (injuries, lack of time, etc.). Other days, you may be surprised by how much progress you make. Sports and exercise build perseverance and a drive to improve. There’s no denying that rush of pride that comes with accomplishing something you set out to do! It makes you feel good about yourself and puts a spring in your step. Before you know it, you’ll feel determined to reach higher, push even harder and keep getting stronger.
Exercising makes you want to take better care of yourself in every aspect of your life — a natural consequence of gaining confidence and self-worth. Treating yourself better can mean different things for different people. Some might feel inspired to start cooking again and move towards a healthier diet. Others might begin structuring their days around their workouts, leading to a more regular schedule and better sleep habits.
The simple answer is — all of them! Regardless of the sport or activity you choose, exercise makes you feel good. The important thing is to see it as something you want to do, not something you have to do. Studies have shown that viewing exercise in a positive light makes it more enjoyable. Positive thinking is a good strategy for maintaining a bright outlook: “I enjoy exercising in the fresh air.” “I take pride in taking care of my body.” “I can’t wait to start my workout!”
Setting goals for yourself, however big or small, can also improve your well-being. Whether your aim is to learn a new sport, train for a race, or build endurance, making noticeable progress and ultimately achieving an objective is a thrilling experience that fosters pride and satisfaction.
The mind is more powerful than you may realize. Many experts encourage strengthening the mind to make it easier to stay motivated. A strong mind makes you less prone to procrastinating and making excuses - two things the brain is exceptionally good at. You have to learn to keep it in check! Developing mental strength is a form of exercise in itself: you need to train your mind to think positively and reject the negative thoughts that can creep in and blur your focus. Two books I would highly recommend on this topic are The Miracle Morning, by Hal Eldrol, and The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle.
Meditation is about quieting your mind, focusing on deep breathing and finding moments of calm. The aim is to learn how to let go of your worries, to awaken your senses and become more aware of your surroundings. Meditation improves your ability to centre and control your thoughts. Meditation is a key element in certain forms of yoga, including yin yoga, which is characterized by its meditative aspect and long, slow poses.
Combat sports teach you to defend yourself, but they also help reduce stress by requiring you to stay focused and calm your mind. They allow you to turn your thoughts inward as you learn to control your breathing and become more in tune with your body. Judo, wrestling, boxing, and karate are just a few examples of combat sports.
Not only does exercise sharpen your mind and increase your motivation — but it also makes you eager to keep at it and achieve new goals. It’s a virtuous circle. So, get out there and enjoy the many benefits of regular physical activity. And (re)discover that walking-on-air feeling!