Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health, build muscle, and of course, get a rockin’ bod, but working out has above-the-neck benefits too. For the past decade or so, scientists have pondered how exercising can boost brain function. Regardless of age or fitness level (yup, this includes everyone from mall-walkers to marathoners), studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits. Get inspired to exercise by reading up on these unexpected ways that working out can benefit mental health, relationships, and lead to a healthier and happier life overall.“Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body.”
There are a lot of misconceptions about strength training that need to be debunked, and most of them have to do with what people assume strength training actually does to your body. Unless you’re a bodybuilder, strength training exercises from weight lifting to body weight movements like squats, push-ups, and planks won’t make you bulk up, but they will offer a slew of other benefits – both physically, and mentally.
“I think many younger people start training for aesthetic reasons, while others want to get a competitive edge at their sport, or a combo of the two,” Reebok trainer, Mike Farr told INSIDER.
“As we mature physically and mentally, I believe our goals in life change, and with this, many people find strength training also. Strength training for general health purposes becomes a more prominent goal. Many also turn to strength training (competitive power-lifting/weightlifting) as a passion or hobby of its own. Although there is a wide variety of reasons why people begin training, the benefits for everyone are the same,” added Farr.
- Reduce stress. Rough day at the office? Take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases concentrations of nor epinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So go ahead and get sweaty—working out can reduce stress and boost the body’s ability to deal with existing mental tension. Win-win!
- Improve self-confidence. Hop on the treadmill to look (and more importantly, feel) like a million bucks. On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Regardless of weight, size, gender, or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person’s perception of his or her attractiveness, that is, self-worth. How’s that for feeling the (self) love?
- Boost happy chemicals. Slogging through a few miles on the ‘mill can be tough, but it’s worth the effort! Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, docs recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression. Don’t worry if you’re not exactly the gym rat type—getting a happy buzz from working out for just 30 minutes a few times a week can instantly boost overall mood.
- There are different kinds of strength training from HIIT to power-lifting to circuit training and muscle-isolation exercises.
- These types of workouts are often associated with toning muscles, but there are many physical and mental benefits to strength training.
- Strength training can help regulate your blood flow and heart rate, speed up your metabolism, clear up brain fog, and boost your mood.
Strength training might improve your digestive system
Not only can strength training tone your abdominals, but it’ll also condition the organs behind your abs too.
“Through strength training, you get the blood flowing, which goes to your stomach and benefits your digestive tract,” Pender told INSIDER. “The blood sugar levels become more controlled, and your metabolism elevates. From a yoga standpoint, you are twisting and internally massaging your stomach, which in turn promotes healthy digestion and detoxifies the organs.”
Strength training may boost your immune system
Similar to how strength training fine-tunes your digestive system, your immune system benefits from these exercises, too, and it all comes back to blood flow, Barry’s Bootcamp instructor and celebrity trainer, Astrid Swan told INSIDER.”Working out and especially strength training boosts your immune system as it is pumping blood throughout the body, relieving stress and releasing endorphins,” Swan explained. “The body often gets sick under times of stress but working out and lifting will help ease that stress.”
Strength training might also clear up brain fog
Stress can clog your brain and make everything feel fuzzy. Strength training releases a surge of endorphins, therefore uplifting your mood, and, in turn, clearing your head.
“Any stress that you walked in with is usually diminished and clarity kicks in,” Swan told INSIDER. “Depending on how hard you lifted you may be able to achieve the same as a runner’s high, but that will be to the individual.”