What Are the Specific Benefits of Exercise?

Psychological and Emotional Benefits

Aerobic exercise is linked with improved mental vigor, including reaction time, acuity, and math skills. Exercising may even enhance creativity and imagination. According to one study, older people who are physically fit respond to mental challenges just as quickly as unfit young adults. (Stretching and weight training appear to have no such effects.) Both aerobic and nonaerobic workouts have been shown to reduce depression. According to one study, exercise was as effective for improving mood in people with clinical depression as some common forms of psychotherapy. Either brief periods of intense training or prolonged aerobic workouts can raise levels of important chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine, that produce feelings of pleasure, causing the so-called runner's high. One study found that teenagers who were active in sports have a much better sense of well being than their sedentary peers; the more vigorously they exercised, the better was their emotional health. In one study, regular brisk walking cut in half the incidence of sleep disturbances in people who suffer from them. It should be noted that exercise in the evening, however, can cause sleep disturbances. Rhythmic aerobic and yoga exercises may be particularly helpful for combating stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness.

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