Published: Aug 29, 2014 8:07 AM EDT

Exercising Helps Your Mental Health

Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health, build muscle, and of course, get a rockin' bod, but working out has above-the-neck benefits, too. Regardless of age or fitness level, studies show that making time for exercise provides some serious mental benefits. Wink News Fitness Expert Mike Drumm is here today to help inspire us to exercise more and he says that working out can benefit your physical health, mental health, your relationships, and lead to a healthier and happier life overall.

Exercising really has a lot of physical and mental benefits. When you have anxiety or depression, exercise often seems like the last thing you want to do. But once you get motivated, exercise can make a big difference.  Exercise helps prevent and improve a number of physical health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis, etc. BUT Research on anxiety, depression and exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can also help reduce anxiety and improve mood. Working out can definitely help you relax and make you feel better, and regular exercise can help keep anxiety and depression from returning!

Exercise Helps Ease Depression

Exercise helps ease depression in a number of ways, and has many psychological and emotional benefits too. It can help you:

1. Gain confidence. Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence. Getting in shape can also make you feel better about your appearance.

2. Take your mind off worries. Exercise is a distraction that can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression.

3. Get more social interaction. Exercise may give you the chance to meet or socialize with others. Just exchanging a friendly smile or greeting as you walk around your neighborhood can help your mood.

4. Cope in a healthy way. Doing something positive to manage anxiety or depression is a healthy coping strategy. Trying to feel better by drinking alcohol, dwelling on how badly you feel, or hoping anxiety or depression will go away can lead to worsening symptoms.

What Kind of Exercise is Best?

The word "exercise" may make you think of running laps around the gym. But exercise includes a wide range of activities that boost your activity level to help you feel better. Certainly running, lifting weights, and other fitness activities that get your heart pumping can help. But so can gardening, washing your car, or strolling around the block and other less intense activities. Anything that gets you off the couch and moving is exercise that can help improve your mood. You don't have to do all your exercise at once either. Broaden how you think of exercise and find ways to fit activity into your routine. Add small amounts of physical activity throughout your day. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little farther away from your work to fit in a short walk. Or, if you live close to your job, consider biking to work.

Exercise Reduces Stress: Had at rough day at the office? Argument with your spouse? Take a walk or head to the gym for a quick workout. One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases the chemical that moderates the brains response to stress. So working out can reduce stress AND boost the body's ability to deal with existing mental tension. Win-win!

Exercise Helps Control Addiction: The brain releases dopamine, the "reward chemical" in response to any form of pleasure, be that exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, or food. Unfortunately, some people become addicted to dopamine and dependent on the substances that produce it, like drugs or alcohol, and sometimes even food and sex. On the bright side, exercise can help in addiction recovery. According to research in Addiction, cigarette smokers show that short amounts of physical activity momentarily broke their cravings. If you're trying to break a bad habit, get out and move a little until the moment has passed.

Exercise Boosts Happy Chemicals: Slogging through a few miles on the treadmill can be tough, but it's worth the effort! Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, doctors recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression.

Exercise Improve Self-Confidence: Hop on the treadmill to look (and more importantly, feel) like a million bucks. On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Regardless of weight, size, gender, or age, exercise can quickly elevate a person's perception of his or her attractiveness. Want an added psychosocial boost? Try exercising outdoors. Working out in outdoor environments lifts self esteem more than if you were hoofing it on the elliptical indoors. Plus, all that Vitamin D acquired from soaking up the sun can lessen the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms. Why book a spa day when a little fresh air and sunshine (and exercise) can work wonders for self-confidence and happiness?

Exercise Lessens Anxiety: While exercise doesn't quite have pharmaceutical-grade effects on extreme cases of anxiety, research suggests that physical activity is effective in relieving symptoms in mild cases. Whether it's hitting the free weights or yoga, releasing tension in your muscles can trail back all the way to your head. The warm and fuzzy chemicals that are released during and after exercise can help people with anxiety disorders calm down.

Exercise Increase Relaxation: Ever hit the hay after a long run or weight session at the gym? For most, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping pill, even for people with insomnia. Moving around 5 to 6 hours before bedtime raises the body's core temperature. When the body temp drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it's time to sleep.

Exercise Inspires Others: Whether it's a pick-up game of soccer, a group class at the gym, or just a run with a friend, exercise rarely happens in a bubble. And that's good news for all of us. Studies show that most people perform better on aerobic tests when paired up with a workout buddy. Pin it to inspiration or good old-fashioned competition, nobody wants to let the other person down. Even fitness beginners can inspire each other to push harder during a sweat session, so find a workout buddy and get moving!

Working out can have positive effects far beyond the gym (and beach season). Gaining self-confidence, getting out of a funk, and even thinking smarter are some of the motivations to take time for exercise on a regular basis.