The physical benefits of exercise—improving physical condition and fighting disease—have long been established, and physicians always encourage staying physically active. Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.When stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. So it stands to reason that if your body feels better, so does your mind. Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers—and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, even breathing deeply can cause your body to produce endorphins. And conventional wisdom holds that a workout of low to moderate intensity makes you feel energized and healthy.
Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.John J. Ratey, MD, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, suggests, “Try alternating between your usual routine and some workouts that are mentally challenging, such as dancing or tennis, a few times a week. Activities like these require coordination, which engages several areas of the brain at once. It's the mental equivalent of doing a push-up to work your entire upper body versus a bicep curl that targets only one muscle.”
In a few weeks, your sweat will literally pay off with you obtaining greater cognitive clarity, better memory, improved focus and less stress – not to mention a leaner body!To learn how Fitness for Health’s one-on-one, exercise programs help strengthen your body and your mind, visit www.FitnessForHealth.org.
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