We’ve all heard the excuses or even voiced them ourselves.
“I’m just too busy to commit to regular exercise!”
“Exercise is boring.”
“My ship has sailed, I’m too old to take up exercise now.”
While there may be a smidgen of truth in some of these statements, a deeper examination of our lack of motivation to exercise would reveal that we are believing things about exercise that are just not true. A significant underlying belief being that we do not think that exercise is worth doing. Understanding more of the benefits is one way to change our exercise beliefs and habits.
We are robbed of such a vast treasure house of benefits when these thoughts translate into inactivity. Although we are likely acquainted with many benefits of exercise, being reminded of some of the physical benefits of exercise can be encouraging to re-engage in the habit. Exercise improves HDL (good cholesterol), helps eliminate insulin resistance, lowers LDL (bad cholesterol), improves blood pressure, lowers inflammation, eliminates harmful blood clots, enhances blood viscosity, helps coronary blood flow, supports healthy endothelium (blood vessel lining), and balances nerve tone, among many other benefits. [i]
What are the benefits of exercise?
And the gains passed by are not just physical, the mental boost we get from regular exercise is perhaps even stronger. Here is a short list of some of the mental and emotional perks we gain from being active:
Improvement in anxiety and depression
Better emotional stability [ii]
Reduced dysfunctional and psychotic behaviors
Quelling of hostility
Enhanced development of executive function in children [iii]
Sharpened cognitive abilities and prevention of cognitive decline [ii]
Reduced risk of developing dementia [ii]
Increased academic performance [ii]
Elevation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor [iv]
What is brain-derived neurotrophic factor?
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has aptly been described as fertilizer for the brain. It performs all kinds of positive functions such as facilitating repair of neurons (brain cells), promoting formation of new neurons, and enhancing learning and memory. [v] Thus, we want to have a good supply of BDNF in circulation.
As we grow older, the ability to make BDNF wanes. But we have a powerful ally to help us gain back some of our lost ability to produce BDNF. This ally is… exercise! [v] Older adults that desire to maximize the cognitive benefits of exercise can add a game challenge during exercise that requires the mind to work. [vi] For example, you can perform some arithmetic while you walk or work your memory by trying to remember the capitals of all fifty states. Doing a challenge one to three times per week is a good frequency. [vii]
This strategy of combining exercise and a mind challenge does great things for children as well. Fortunately, talking kids into playing an active game is usually not difficult. Games require us to think about strategy and movements. Combining this type of mental activity with physical activity will further enhance the brain-building power of exercise. This combination of mental activity with exercise has been shown to improve word recall memory in children. [viii]
If you are older and just can’t muster the imagination for a game, don’t worry, exercise alone will impart significant benefits. Sedentary adults that start to practice aerobic exercise like walking or jogging can expect advances in cognitive factors such as memory, processing speed and executive function. [iv] Studies have shown these cognitive improvements from 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise performed three days a week.
“Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence is the key to unlocking our potential.”
— WINSTON CHURCHILL
The evidence presented here just barely scratches the surface of the massive data that supports exercise as a worthwhile part of everyone’s daily activity. Don’t let that negative inner voice relegate you to the couch, computer, or smart phone. When we intentionally move on a daily basis, our brains light up and the challenges that once befuddled us become tamable. Famed prime minister of England, Winston Churchill, was a man known for his grit. “Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence is the key to unlocking our potential.” - Winston Churchill
Perhaps you have been wondering what potential may lay underneath your current inactive state. Why not get up and get moving to discover the benefits in your own life! Clearly, this will benefit your mind and body. I’d like to encourage you to take a moment to think of how you would like to improve physically and mentally. Think about what specific types of exercise you enjoy and ways that you can incorporate these into your life. While spending 30-60 minutes five days a week is an ideal for exercise, start small and aim for consistency. Begin today with a short walk during your lunch break, for example. Check out thisNedley Health exercise handout for more ideas on incorporating exercise in your daily routine. Exercise is a simple yet powerful tool to help you achieve your physical and mental goals.
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[i] Franklin, Barry A. et al. "Exercise-Based Cardiac Rehabilitation And Improvements In Cardiorespiratory Fitness: Implications Regarding Patient Benefit". Mayo Clinic Proceedings, vol 88, no. 5, 2013, pp. 431-437. Elsevier BV.
[ii] Mandolesi, Laura et al. "Effects Of Physical Exercise On Cognitive Functioning And Wellbeing: Biological And Psychological Benefits". Frontiers In Psychology, vol 9, 2018. Frontiers Media SA.
[iii] Best, John R. et al. "Long-Term Effects Of Resistance Exercise Training On Cognition And Brain Volume In Older Women: Results From A Randomized Controlled Trial". Journal Of The International Neuropsychological Society, vol 21, no. 10, 2015, pp. 745-756. Cambridge University Press (CUP).
[iv] Szuhany, Kristin L. et al. "A Meta-Analytic Review Of The Effects Of Exercise On Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor". Journal Of Psychiatric Research, vol 60, 2015, pp. 56-64. Elsevier BV.
[v] Leckie, Regina L. et al. "BDNF Mediates Improvements In Executive Function Following A 1-Year Exercise Intervention". Frontiers In Human Neuroscience, vol 8, 2014. Frontiers Media SA.
[vi] Herold, Fabian et al. "Thinking While Moving Or Moving While Thinking – Concepts Of Motor-Cognitive Training For Cognitive Performance Enhancement". Frontiers In Aging Neuroscience, vol 10, 2018. Frontiers Media SA.
[vii] Tait, Jamie L. et al. "Influence Of Sequential Vs. Simultaneous Dual-Task Exercise Training On Cognitive Function In Older Adults". Frontiers In Aging Neuroscience, vol 9, 2017. Frontiers Media SA.
[viii] Pesce, Caterina et al. "Physical Activity And Mental Performance In Preadolescents: Effects Of Acute Exercise On Free-Recall Memory". Mental Health And Physical Activity, vol 2, no. 1, 2009, pp. 16-22. Elsevier BV.
[ix] Jonasson, Lars S. et al. "Aerobic Exercise Intervention, Cognitive Performance, And Brain Structure: Results From The Physical Influences On Brain In Aging (PHIBRA) Study". Frontiers In Aging Neuroscience, vol 8, 2017. Frontiers Media SA.
About the author
Nathan Hyde holds a BS in Biology from Central Washington University. He worked for 15 years in environmental testing and eight years in fisheries with both federal and state agencies. Nathan currently works for Nedley Health as a researcher, writer, and editor, as well as in various capacities during the residential Nedley Depression & Anxiety Recovery Program™. When Nathan isn’t working, he enjoys gardening, working with stone, and helping people understand God’s true character.