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The Exercise Effect: Why Physical Activity Benefits You Both Mentally and Physically

When you're nervous, your heart races. When you’re stressed, you get an upset stomach. When you’re happy, you feel energized.

Your emotions and your physical state are deeply intertwined. Often referred to as the ''mind-body connection", how you feel mentally impacts how you feel physically — and vice versa.

Another way the mind-body connection shows up is through exercise and physical activity. With regular exercise, you can tackle two important aspects of your well-being — your mental and physical health.

Unfortunately, not enough people take advantage of this efficient way to improve their health.

Exercise and Physical and Mental Health

Among all the ways you support your well-being — like eating healthy, reducing stress, and keeping up with your annual wellness visits — make sure staying physically active stays front and center. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

Exercise Your Way to Better Physical Health

Your body is a lot like a car — you can’t let it sit for days on end and expect it to still be in peak condition. Just like you need to drive your car every once in a while to avoid problems like rust, a dead battery, and tire problems, you need to move your body to keep it physically healthy.

Exercise promotes physical health by:

  • Helping you maintain a healthy weight
  • Reducing your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Strengthening your bones and muscles to slow the loss of bone density
  • Reducing your risk of some cancers, such as colon, breast, lung, and uterine cancer
  • Lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes (or helping manage your blood sugar levels if you already have type 2 diabetes)
  • Decreasing your risk of falls and getting injured
  • Alleviating pain from arthritis or other rheumatic conditions

Strong Body, Strong Mind

Physical activity goes far beyond benefitting your body. It also helps you manage your mental health — something that has been difficult for many this past year. From stress to anxiety to frustration, plenty of people have experienced a wide variety of challenging emotions due to things like the COVID-19 pandemic, racial unrest, and natural disasters.

One way to manage tough emotions is to get moving. Physical activity can improve your mental health by:

  • Producing endorphins: These natural mood-boosters are chemicals in your brain that act like painkillers and provide you with energy.
  • Reducing stress: Exercise combats stress by reducing fatigue, relaxing your muscles, and relieving tension.
  • Improving sleep: Even small amounts of exercise can regulate your sleep patterns, helping you to get better quality sleep and feel well-rested in the morning.
  • Managing depression and anxiety: Physical activity promotes powerful changes in the brain — such as reduced inflammation — that help you feel calm and relaxed. It also serves as a distraction, allowing you to focus on your workout instead of your worries.
  • Improving focus and concentration: Exercise produces chemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin — all of which improve your focus and attention. This can also help reduce symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

While exercise can significantly improve your mental health, some people don’t look forward to it. This can make some of its mental health benefits less noticeable. Keep in mind — there are plenty of ways to get moving. Try new, enjoyable ways to exercise, such as a fun workout class, listening to a podcast on a walk, or playing tennis with some friends.

Starting (or Continuing) Your Fitness Journey

You’ve already got a lot on your plate. But because exercise is a two-for-one deal, it’s an efficient way to care for your mind and body that’s worth investing both time and energy into.

If you’re new to the exercise world, here are some easy ways to make physical activity a habit you can stick to:

  • Start small — and build up to more exercise. For instance, aim for 15 minutes of physical activity a day, then move to 20, 30, and so on.
  • Build a routine. Exercising at the same time of day can help you stick to your regimen. 
  • Reward yourself. Maybe you take a hot bath or treat yourself to your favorite cup of coffee after a good workout.
  • Hold yourself accountable. This can be with a workout partner, a social media group, or simply by asking a friend or family member to check in on your progress.
  • Be patient. Starting a new workout routine takes time — and give yourself grace as you adjust. 

If you’re a tried and true exercise lover, keep it up! Continue to find new ways to get your heart pumping, muscles working, and mind activated.

Our bodies change with age, season, and health — and being purposeful about caring for your body is critical. Physical activity is just one of the ways you can show your body the love it deserves.

Looking for Ways to Incorporate Exercise into Your Daily Routine?

  • Call 610-738-2300 to make an appointment with a healthcare provider at Chester County Hospital.

Related Information from Chester County Hospital:

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