Physical activity promotes health and wellness in many ways. It’s good for our muscles, bones, heart and lungs. It improves our energy, strength, and endurance. And it protects our long-term health. But that’s not all. The mind-body connection ensures that keeping physically active has emotional benefits too.
How Physical Activity Can Help Right Now
Are you feeling sad? Anxious? Frustrated? Angry? Going for a walk or a jog can provide immediate relief. Exercise helps distract us from distressing thoughts and feelings. Exercise also promotes the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that help relieve pain and stress. This provides emotional benefits directly, for example by reducing anxiety. It also has indirect emotional benefits. Pain can bring on feelings of anxiety, anger, or depression. The analgesic, or pain-relieving, effects of endorphins can offer relief from emotional distress.
The benefits of physical activity go far beyond immediate gains. For example, exercising can help a person get better sleep. Studies have shown that regular exercise helps people fall asleep faster and get more restorative deep sleep. And getting regular sleep protects our emotional health, especially with regard to our emotional reactivity thresholds. Regular exercise also promotes mood stability. Research studies have shown that people who exercise regularly are less likely to be depressed and anxious than people who do not exercise. This may be in part because regular exercise enhances our emotional processing abilities.
Emotional Advantages Across a Lifetime
Exercising regularly across the lifespan has well-documented physical benefits, including the reduction of risk for chronic diseases and some cancers. Lifelong exercise also benefits us psychologically and emotionally. If you are getting regular exercise right now, you may continue to benefit emotionally for years to come. A study in Norway showed that people who had exercised regularly in their teens were more likely to experience positive mood and happiness in adulthood. Happiness was partly related to continued exercise habits, but positive mood was more likely for teen exercisers even if they were no longer exercising regularly as adults.
One way to promote health and wellness for your entire family is to enjoy physical activities together. Family walks, dance parties, and games like outdoor obstacle courses can help everyone get their bodies moving. Are you having trouble getting started? Experts emphasize the importance of starting slowly and finding a routine that is compatible with your schedule. How about a family walk after dinner tonight? It could be the first step towards a lifetime of emotional benefits.