How would you like to improve every aspect of your life?
Your brain controls absolutely everything you do, how you feel and what you accomplish throughout life. So optimising your brain performance and improving your mental health are the most important things you can do. Below you will discover 43 truly amazing mental benefits of exercise.
When it comes to accessing the amazing mental benefits of exercise, consistency is the key. I believe it’s vitally important to always think about the benefits of doing anything. Doing this will motivate you to remain consistent with your exercise, allowing you to continually improve your mental performance and health. The comprehensive benefit list below backed by evidence based research, forms the foundation for creating exercise habits. Absolutely essential to improving your resilience and mental toughness. This list is taken from our Sustainable Resilience Coach program.
It is now well known that exercise is good for you. It is good for the body and mind. Generally speaking though, most articles you read regarding the benefits of exercise relate to how you look rather than how you feel. And so, because I truly believe your mind is the most important thing in the world, I will focus on providing you the seemingly magical mental benefits of exercise.
As stated in this article, ‘aerobic activity is a powerful stimulus for improving mental health and for generating structural changes in the brain’. So if there is just one thing you remember from this article, remember that aerobic exercise for sustained periods is going to improve your brain performance and mental health. Aerobic exercise can be jogging, swimming, cycling, surfing, playing golf and or anything active that you enjoy. It’s as simple as that! So go out there and get active!
But it’s not just aerobic exercise that’s good for you. Resistance training and anything intense is also a great way to improve your brain performance and mental health, which will be discussed later in the article.
Below you will find a range of research articles that show the mental benefits of exercise for a range of different age groups. It is clear from the research that exercise provides mental benefits to everyone regardless of age. So if you see an article that talks about the benefits for a specific age group that isn’t yours, please don’t disregard it as it is likely still relevant to you. Previously there has been a plethora of articles showing the mental benefits of exercise to animals. And now there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests exercise also provides mental benefits to humans.
My aim with this article is to provide you information regarding the mental benefits of exercise that is:
- Up to date (usually research articles no older than 5 years)
- Evidence based
- Utilising the most rigorous testing methodology; randomised control trials (RCT’s)
INFOGRAPHIC – Mental Benefits Of Exercise
You are more than welcome to share and use the above Infographic about the mental benefits of exercise. The only thing I ask in return is a reference link back to this article. You can download a free PDF of the above infographic HERE.
Brain Performance Benefits
Increased Mental Toughness
Have you ever faced a situation that seemed so challenging and stressful that you gave up? I’m sure your answer was yes and you will no doubt face more of them. Throughout the rest of your life, there will be many ups and downs, especially if you want to follow your dreams and live the life you deserve. It’s quite easy to follow the path society has set out for you by going to school and securing a nice stable job where you work the 9-5 grind for the rest of your life or more commonly, the 7 to 7 grind. OR you could have a go at starting your dream business to live the rest of your life on your terms! But in order to do this, you need the resilience to overcome the inevitable ups and downs coming your way. One of the best and easiest ways to do this is through exercise. Especially exercise at a high intensity. A study using 284 high school students showed that there is a direct correlation between physical activity and mental toughness. And from my own experience and that of my clients, exercise done at high intensity is ideal to improving resilience and mental toughness. Check out this video for more information and a demonstration on how easy it is to start realising the mental benefits of exercise today!
Enhanced Executive Functions
You might be thinking, ‘what are my executive functions?’. Imagine you were given a project to manage. Maybe it’s your own project or business launch. In order to successfully manage this task, you need to make sure it’s done within budget, within a time frame and to a high quality. To do this you will utilise a range of executive functions to effectively and efficiently execute the task at hand. These executive functions or skills can be seen below:
- Impulse Control
- Emotional Control
- Flexible Thinking
- Working Memory
- Self Monitoring
- Planning & Prioritising
- Task Initiation
The excellent news is there are significant mental benefits of exercise that improve all of the above executive functions. There are a number of studies that show this, but the most impressive I’ve seen is one done with 4555 older adults (found here) that showed a robust bidirectional link between physical activity and executive function. In other words, exercise will improve your executive functions and in turn, improved executive function will increase physical activity levels. Pretty cool aye!?
Do you find yourself losing concentration half way through your day? Do you wish you could have laser like focus until you have completed the job at hand? Well when it comes to improving your concentration, there is a secret weapon. Yes you guessed it; exercise! A study was done with 28 people, 14 with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (something I had growing up that makes it impossible to concentrate on anything) and 14 without. All 28 people were put under a physical activity stimulus (5 minute run) followed by a 5 minute rest and a video game that needed to be completed as quickly as possible. Both the ADHD group and normal group both showed similar results which were ~30% increase in concentration performance. Imagine if you created the habit of exercising to receive this benefit daily…
For me, nothing beats creating something all by yourself. Whether it’s coming up with a new idea or physically creating something, the feeling it gives you is extraordinary. So let me ask you this… How would you like to increase your creativity to help you come up with a unique idea? Or maybe a billion dollar idea or something greater? Perhaps something really cool like Albert Einsteins Theory Of Relativity… We all have the potential to do this and exercise is one of a few pillar strategies you can implement to boost your creativity. A great starting point to boost your creativity is simply going for a walk outside. A relatively recent study (found here) showed that walking boosted creative output by 60%! BOOM! Another study tested whether physical exercise had an impact on divergent and convergent thinking, the two key elements to a creative mind. Divergent meaning the ability to brain storm multiple ideas and convergent thinking to narrow in on one solution to a problem. The study (found here) showed that people who exercise regularly are better at creative thinking. So to access the mental benefits of exercise, start creating the habit of daily exercise.
Improved Attention & Processing Speed
Can you keep yourself completely focused on the job at hand with the ability to process information effectively and efficiently? Would you like to improve your attention and processing speed? Well, there have been many studies completed that confirm exercise (in particular aerobic exercise) will improve your attention and processing speed. You can read more about it in this article where 24 studies were reviewed and analysed to show exercise provides a modest improvement to attention and processing speed. In addition to these studies, another study (found here) showed that intense exercise significantly increased Alpha Peak Frequency (~Alpha brain waves), a neurophysiological marker for an individuals state of arousal and attention. This is one reason why exercise is part of my morning ritual because I start the day off with an elevated ability to process information and stay on task.
Improved Memory & Learning
There have been many studies showing the long term benefits of exercise on mental health (which can be found here) and now also short term benefits. One study (which can be found here) using 48 males aged between 18 and 35 tested whether or not a single bout of exercise would improve motor skill memory. The results from this study showed that aerobic exercise before and after learning improved motor skill memory. I.e. aerobic exercise can improve your ability to remember complex movements. This is impressive because motor skill memory is classified as a high level executive function similar to your working memory. I.e. your ability to remember names, phone numbers and where you left your wallet. In addition (as mentioned in this study), high alpha peak frequency levels due to exercise are associated with shorter reaction times, better working memory and superior memory performance.
Improved Brain Health
Exercise has been shown through an overwhelming amount of animal studies and human studies to improve brain health. If you are interested in reading more about the technical aspects of how exercise changes your brain for the better, check out this article. This article is something I have been referring to for years and it’s something many current studies still refer back to. Below you will find the primary brain benefits of exercise that are the foundation to all other benefits:
- Increased Neuroplasticity (brain’s ability to rewire)
- Increased Neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells)
- Enhanced Metabolism
- Improved Vascular Function
Who wouldn’t want more brain cells? Who wouldn’t want increased blood flow to the brain bringing you oxygen and nutrient rich blood to help you perform?
Mental Health Benefits
According to the Black Dog Institute, 20% of Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year. One in 5 people. How many people do you have in your immediate and extended family? Most people, if not all will have more than 5, which means every year, someone in your family will be suffering from a mental illness. In fact, every day, at least 6 Australians die from suicide with a further 30 people attempting to take their own life. The great news is that there are many mental benefits to exercise, which I will discuss below…
Prevents & Treats Depression
Do you know someone who is a little depressed? Do you know someone who is struggling from a Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)? No matter what part of the scale you or someone you know falls within, the ‘positive effects of exercise training on the treatment of MDDs are well documented‘. Exercise acts like an anti-depressant among healthy adults, chronically ill patients and people with depressive disorders. It is clear that exercise will help you overcome and prevent depression, however exercise habits need to be formed. If you stop exercising, your symptoms will likely come back. This is why exercise is 1 of 3 pillars to creating the habits for lasting resilience and mental toughness.
Prevents & Treats Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are a growing concern and a significant public health problem. A literature review (which you can find here) examined a range of evidence for exercise as an intervention for anxiety disorders. All of the studies provided “converging evidence for consistent beneficial effects of exercise on anxiety”, which supports exercise as a treatment and prevention for anxiety disorders. So if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or know someone who is, share this article or the above research paper with them and encourage them to start exercising.
Prevents & Treats Dementia
Due to the overwhelming research regarding exercise and it’s positive effects on mental health, it is often important to conduct reviews and/or analyses of multiple studies. Doing this is a great way to determine a trend and in this case a trend regarding exercise and it’s ability to prevent dementia. Here you can find a review that references over 120 research papers. One of the most impressive studies done was a randomised control trial with 389 Hong Kong older adults who already had mild cognitive impairment (which you can find here). The study showed that participation in Tai Chi for 30 minutes, 3 times per week for just one year reduced their risk of Dementia onset by 80%! This review concludes that physical activity provides significant mental health benefits and at this stage is the only way to help prevent and treat dementia.
Reduces PTSD Symptoms
There is no doubt that exercise improves your mood and feelings of wellbeing, just go for a run and you will see what I mean. These are called anxiolytic effects, which is why exercise is often the best medicine to treat different mental health conditions. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the focus of a number of research studies in recent times. One study (found here) clearly showed that exercise reduces PTSD symptoms. I have been reading research papers on the positive effects exercise has on the human brain for some time now and I’m seeing a pretty clear pattern. Exercise improves brain performance and mental health regardless of circumstance. And so I’m confident every mental health condition can at least be improved if not treated using exercise. The best thing about exercise is that it doesn’t have to cost you any money and you can experience the wonderful benefits from it daily.
Reduces Age Related Cognitive Decline
There is more and more evidence suggesting that physical activity reduces the seemingly inevitable age related cognitive decline that faces all of us. Just take a moment right now to think about your future life as an older adult. Imagine the impact of forgetting things. Imagine how distressing it would be if you couldn’t do simple tasks anymore. I want to live my life to the absolute fullest regardless of my age. This is why I am creating exercise habits now that will benefit me throughout my entire life. What about you? There is an overwhelming amount of research that shows the mental benefits of exercise, in particular it’s ability to reduce age related cognitive decline. For example, this study examined 2605 older adults aged 65 years and over showed that people who remained physically active or increased physical activity over time, had up to 60% reduced risk of cognitive decline. Who wouldn’t want that!?
Reduces Age Related Brain Shrinkage
This paper examines how we all face age related brain shrinkage leading to a whole range of mental health problems. The brain of the average older adult shrinks by 1-2% every year. The excellent news is the fitter you are, the bigger your brain is. A study of 120 older adults showed that 12 months of aerobic exercise improved spatial memory and increased the size of the Hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory. The study showed a 2% increase in Hippocampal volume, which correlated to a 1 to 2 year reverse of age related brain shrinkage. As the research suggests, exercise will not only reduce age related brain shrinkage, but potentially could stop it altogether!
As demonstrated in numerous studies and from my own and my clients personal experience, exercise has been shown to significantly improve mood. I urge you to go for a 20 minute slow jog today and then comment on this post letting me know how it made you feel afterwards. The trick is not to improve your mood just once, but to boost your mood on a daily basis. And to do this you need to turn this information into knowledge and ultimately to forming a habit. Forming habits around exercise is the first step towards realising daily mental benefits of exercise and unlocking your full potential. For more information on creating the habits for lasting resilience and mental toughness, check out this article.
One of the best ways to reduce stress levels is to do some exercise. Whether it’s the ‘feel good’ chemicals flooding your brain or simply doing something to take your mind off things or both, exercise is a great stress reliever. There’s probably no need for me to show you any research because exercise speaks for itself here but I’m going to anyway. The cool thing about this research is that it’s not about using exercising when you’re stressed, but using exercise to increase your resilience to future stress. In this study, 92 men ranging from elite athlete to untrained had their physiological and psychological responses measured after being put under a psychosocial stressor. i.e. they were put in a stressful situation to see how they would react. It turns out that the athletes (regular exercisers) were more resilient to mental stressors. Pretty cool stuff!
Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injuries
Before I get into the evidence based research showing the mental benefits of exercise in recovering from traumatic brain injuries, I want to briefly share my own experience. A couple weeks prior to starting an engineering degree, I was gang bashed by ~5 men. First I was hit from behind, which instantly knocked me unconscious and then was apparently kicked in the head multiple times by multiple people. I am truly grateful that my younger brother Austin and my good friend Nathaniel were close by to come to my rescue. Who knows what might have happened if they weren’t there. I could be suffering permanent brain damage or worse. As I started university, I was unable to concentrate in lectures (I needed a special assistant to take notes for me), my memory was terrible, I was unable to socialise and I struggled to string sentences together and talk to people. Attempting to have conversations with people instantly triggered anxiety, something that I had never experienced before.
As you can imagine, I just wanted to be normal again so I started researching alternate ways to improve my brain performance and mental health. From what I read at the time and learned from my doctors, exercise was looking promising as an excellent way to accelerate my recovery. The general advice was to perform aerobic exercise to increase oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the brain, theoretically allowing it to recover more quickly. Of course much more research has been done now and much more is known about exercise and brain health as discussed in the relevant section above. In the year following my head injury, I made an excellent recovery and soon started improving my brain performance beyond where it was before the accident. This allowed me to go from struggling to follow the lectures to finishing the year within the top 10% of the whole university.
According to Brain Injury Australia, 22,000 Australians were hospitalised with a traumatic brain injury from 2004-2005 alone. And I’m sure a similar figure is being generated each year, so if you know someone who is struggling with a brain injury, please share with them the mental benefits of exercise discussed within this article. I know first hand how much exercise can help someone with a brain injury because I have been there. This event changed my life completely and is the reason why I am doing what I do today. Your brain is the most important thing in the world. It controls how you think, how you feel and what you accomplish throughout life, so do it a HUGE favour and started creating the habit of exercise today!
If you want to start accessing the mental benefits of exercise, all you have to do is follow the actions below…
> the following is a routine and list of exercises you can do without going to the gym
- 1x Aerobic Exercise (e.g. slow jog. Aim for ~20 minutes) – Increase frequency of aerobic exercise sessions as required to meet your fitness level. Slowly increase aerobic exercise frequency to daily.
- 1x HIIT (refer to Bulletproof Entrepreneur Facebook page for free workouts)
- 1x Resistance training session per week (Full Body)
- Pull-ups OR Body Rows (get creative with where you perform these)
- Side Plank (max hold)
- Plank (max hold)
Instructions: Complete each movement to 1-2 repetitions short of failure (or best guess). Complete 1 set of exercise #1 then complete 1 set of exercise #2 then #3 and then #4 with no rest. Repeat 2-3 rounds. Finish your workout by completing exercise #5 & #6 to failure.
- Download the Infographic and/or comprehensive Benefit List.
- Print and stick this benefit list around your house (toilet, room, fridge, smart phone background, etc) to use as exercise motivation/reminders.
Remember that consistency is the key, so remember the benefits and complete the above actions as a minimum to start receiving the mental benefits of exercise.
If you need help accessing the mental benefits of exercise, check out this article on creating the habits for lasting resilience and mental toughness.
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