Would you like to decrease depression and anxiety, boost your self-confidence, sharpen your memory, AND sleep better? All this can be accomplished in about 3 – 5 hours per week. What is this magic treatment? Exercise. That’s right. That thing your mom used to tell you to go outside and get when you were a child just to get you out of the house. Now you are older, and you still need to go outside and get some exercise.
It is a well-known fact that exercise lowers our risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and even cancer. That alone is enough reason to get up and move, but the emotional benefits are just as valuable and amazing, if not more so. After only one exercise session, you release mood enhancing hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, which act as messengers to the brain to create a sense of well-being and satisfaction. This is probably why people who exercise report higher energy levels and less anxiety and depression than their sedentary counterparts. Why does exercise improve our health in such significant ways? One reason is neurogenesis, which is the growth of new cells. Exercise creates new nerve cells, which generate new connections in your brain. Also, exercise stimulates the production of human growth hormone (HGH), otherwise known as youth serum, which tells your body to make new cells. This is a hormone that declines as we age so exercise is important to keep this hormone flowing and creating new stem cells, which act as a repair system for the body.
Exercise has been demonstrated to improve brain function and reduce the risk for dementia. A study written in the scientific journal, Gerontology, found that leg muscle strength correlated with cognition. Increased leg power was associated with improved cognitive ageing over a 10-year period. In other words, the people with stronger leg muscles had sharper brains.
To reap all these wonderful benefits do you need to run the Boston Marathon, or qualify for the Olympics in swimming, or train to be a challenger in the Iron Man competition? No, you can do something as simple and cost free as walking in the neighborhood. Or you can lift weights, dance, swim, play tennis or golf. In fact, a study of elderly participants in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that dance was the exercise that had the best chance of decreasing dementia. Nevertheless, any exercise that you enjoy will do the trick.
Guess what else? A gym is great if that’s what you prefer, but studies show that levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, are lower in people who engage in outdoor exercise as opposed to those who exercise indoors. Also, people who prefer outdoor activities have less anxiety, depression and stress than those that prefer to workout indoors. Could it be the bright healing solar rays that boost our mood? Or the warm Vitamin D that we absorb to build strong bones and boost our immune system? Or maybe it is the ancient spiritual connection with nature? There is actually a new field of psychology, ecotherapy, that examines our relationship with the environment, and studies our interaction with nature to promote physical and mental healing. Nature is a powerful healer and it is free to enjoy, regardless of whether you are playing, relaxing, or listening to the calming sounds of divine creation.
You don’t have to join an expensive gym or a yoga studio if that is not your thing. Movement is all that is needed. Get creative! Most of all, have a good time!
- Plan a scavenger hunt with friends
- Throw a Frisbee
- Play catch with the dog
- Throw a football with the kids
- Take a dance class
- Go hiking
- Join a team sport
- Go bowling
- Clean the house
- Play laser tag
- Mow the grass
- Jump on a trampoline
- Kayak or paddleboard
- Bike ride