The Mental Benefits Of Exercise
For the past 50 years, doctors and researchers have found that there are benefits from physical exercise as it relates to a persons overall health. Right after the 60’s through the end of the 70’s, research confirmed that a regular exercise regimen provided benefit in reducing the risk of heart disease significantly in people. Additional review and studies found that performing exercise regularly also helped minimize a much larger group of physical health issues (colon cancer, diabetes, elevated blood pressure, and even death, etc.). In the 1980’s we began to discover the positive impact of exercise on mental health. Since then several studies have demonstrated that depression, anxiety, and stress can be significantly reduced as a function of exercise.
Research that is more recent has yielded some amazing findings on the impact of exercise on the brain itself. In a newly released article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, cognitive neuroscientists Art Kramer (University of Illinois) and Kirk Erickson (University of Pittsburgh) evaluated a number of studies indicating that exercise not only slows down brain aging but can actually increase brain tissue and improve brain functioning. The benefit of exercise has even been demonstrated with Alzheimer’s patients. This is a profound realization, since brain mass typically shrinks with age and can influence cognitive decline in older adults. In fact, a reversal of this process resulted from as little as six months of exercise. The bottom line is that we now know that exercise does not just keep the body healthy but the mind as well.
This brings a heightened concern to our ever-increasing sedentary lifestyle, where children and adults are spending more and more time in front of computer screens. It is estimated that approximately half of the population ages twelve to twenty-one who are not physically active and that physical activity declines dramatically during adolescence. This is usually true for female. This is consistent with local findings that only one-third of high school seniors report participating in vigorous physical activity (YRBS, 2007). As many of us know, this trend continues into adulthood. It is estimated that 60% of American adults are not regularly active and 25% are not active at all.
What is encouraging about the above research is that it is never too late to enjoy the benefits of exercise and even small amounts of exercise (e.g. going for a walk) can be helpful. For our own physical, mental, and neurological health, we need to incorporate some level of physical exercise into our normal routine. As parents, we need to educate our children regarding the importance of exercise as well as modeling these behaviors ourselves. Creating opportunities to do fun physical activities on a regular basis is a way to get started. This also provides an opportunity to spend time together as a family.
Focusing on enjoyable activities, (basketball at the local park, a bike ride on the Boulder Creek path, swimming at the local recreation center, etc.) will increase the likelihood that you will follow through and continue. The key is taking that first step.
“Go Take A Hike,” is something that every parent probably says to his or her children and others. Although the actual motivation for the statement is different, the outcome is beneficial. So the next time you hear it, do not get insulted. Just think of it as someone who is trying to help you out with an exercise suggestion.
Your brain and overall well-being will thank you for it.