Brain Power - Workouts And Your Mind

Your workout provides benefits you can't see in the weight room mirror: a healthier brain, better mood, and the tools to thrive for a lifetime.

Working out builds muscle, boosts strength, and helps burn fat. But do you realize all the mental benefits exercise provides?

I'm not just talking about all that extra reading you see people getting done on the stationary bike. Regular exercise of all types, be it aerobic, resistance, swimming, or yoga, provides real benefits to your brain, your mood, and your ability to persevere through whatever trials life indicts you with.

Let's take a look at some of the key ways a workout program can give you a mental boost and how you can make the most of it.

1 /
Mental Alertness And Concentration

The positive influence exercise has on mental functioning is well-established. A multitude of studies point to aerobic and resistance exercises as effective ways to improve "executive function," which is an umbrella term encompassing things like problem solving, working memory, attention span, multitasking and verbal reasoning—basically everything that makes for a good employee. The "brain gain" effect is strongest in the hours following exercise. Let's rephrase the question: Why are you only exercising after work?

Those who perform early-
morning workouts blast into the
workday feeling energized and
fresh, and they are able to get
more accomplished in the
morning hours while everyone
else is still waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Early-morning exercise has also been shown to improve sleep. People who exercise after waking up are statistically more likely to stick with their exercise programs.

We know we should get up early and exercise,
but one look at a gym parking lot at 6 p.m.
shows these plans suffer a daily death-
by-snooze-button. That same gym or trail or
sidewalk is empty at 6 a.m., even though the soft sunlight and quiet make it a far more peaceful, welcoming time to devote to self-care. Consider this your wake-up call!

2 /
Improved Mood, Decreased Depression

Those who suffer from depression may not feel like exercising at all, but the science is unequivocal. Exercise has been touted for many years as a top treatment for battling depression. It offers strong preventative benefits as well.

An oft-cited study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology noted that adults who participated in a regular physical activity program showed reduced rates of both long-term and acute depression, regardless of their age, sex, ethnicity, financial situation, body mass index, level of alcohol consumption, and numerous other factors.

Contemporary research broadened this conclusion, showing that exercise doesn't necessarily have to be especially intense or aerobic to positively impact mental health. One study published in the Journal of Psychology found noticeable mood improvement in subjects following a single session of swimming, yoga and other "mindful exercises."

Beyond the science and stats, embracing exercise represents a way to take active control of your well-being, rather than succumbing to the helplessness and desperation of depression. When you establish a workout routine, you set aside a section of your life with the goal of feeling better. What you accomplish in that time is up to you. The victories are yours, as long as you fight.

3 /
Ward Off Cognitive Decline

Look in the medicine cabinet of most people over the age of 50, and you see they have disease prevention on their minds. Even with all the pills and vitamins, many boomers skip the best mental and physical health treatment of all: a consistent workout program.

A 2009 study by the Center for Alzheimer Disease and Related Disorders and several other organizations found "overwhelming evidence" in the existing medical literature that "exercise ensures successful brain functioning."

Another study published in Annals of Neurology noted that among a group of 69 adults age 55-to-88, people who participated in regular physical activity for at least a decade had noticeably lower levels of cognitive decline.

But again, science in this
case only serves to back
up common sense.
Regular physical activity
is a clear way for aging
adults to retain their day-to-day functionality, avoid obesity, and maintain an enjoyable lifestyle into their golden years. No prescription drug can promise all that!

4 /
Self-Efficacy And Motivation

As the calendar keeps turning and time slips by, it's easy to fall into thinking that you just spin your wheels and your goals are out of reach. Incorporating a workout into your lifestyle carves out a space where you continually make incremental progress and achieve success. Set an objective, work toward it, achieve it. What could be more empowering than that?

This doesn't just apply to capital-G Goals like total body transformations or marathon "finisher" medals. Every set, every mile, every sweaty minute, every time you choose to walk into the gym represents an established and reached goal. People who commit themselves to this process can approach other challenges in life confident in their ability to persevere, to work, and to break big projects into smaller, achievable steps.

In time, this translates to something millions aspire to have: a healthy lifestyle. People who take care of their mind and body with good nutrition and exercise are more positive and in control of their lives. If the alternative is the sort of negative, fatalistic frame of mind that we all complain about when it crosses our paths, then the choice is clear. Exercise, and live!