In today’s world, there are plenty of different pills to improve your mental health, your attention span and to boost your energy levels and motivation.
But what if I said you could have all of these benefits at no cost and with no side effects?
I am talking about doing none other than daily exercise.
In the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, the author, John Ratey says that exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain.
When we usually think of exercise, we think of staying in good shape and maintaining good health, but what usually goes overlooked is the transformative ability of exercise on the brain.
The author explains in the book that that exercise has more effects on our brain than any other part in our body.
But even if you don’t care about optimising your brain, why is daily exercise more important than ever before?
Study after study shows that we humans are build to move and that we function our best while we are upright or moving. Our heart, cardiovascular system and other organs work more effectively that way.
Living in an age where you can play, connect with people, shop, keep yourself entertained and do all sorts of activities without even moving your legs, comes at a cost.
Sitting for long periods can have serious implications on our health. Therefore it’s no surprise that diseases are increasing at an alarming rate due to the sedentary lifestyle many of us are leading today.
Lack of physical activity has been identified by the World Health Organisation as the fourth leading cause of deaths and causes an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally (accounting for 6% of deaths).
However, on the bright side, daily physical exercise can come with plenty of benefits such as,
Increases your energy levels
If you find yourself lacking energy through the day, research shows getting your body moving and exercising is a great way to boost your energy levels.
I used to feel a general lack of energy after getting up in the morning, and this would have a bearing on my mood early on during the day. Since I’ve started exercising I’ve seen a big difference in my energy levels not only in the morning but later on during the day. I can no longer imagine going without exercise in the morning anymore as the thought itself makes me feel weak in my body.
Regular exercise can be so powerful that it can boost energy levels even among people suffering from chronic medical conditions like cancer and heart disease.
Improves your mood
Exercise releases neurotransmitters in the body such as serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine all of which help to boost your mood and sense of well-being.
Since the mind and body are closely linked, when your body feels better so will your mind.
This has been personally one of the biggest motivators for me to exercise daily. The feeling after working out for half an hour feels great, and this has made me stick with the habit of daily exercise over the past year.
Improves your attention span
The constant buzzing of our smartphones and our tech usage is not bearing well on our attention span.
Various studies however show a positive correlation between physical exercise and greater attention span. Even a single work out can increase your ability to shift and focus attention for at least 2 hours says neuroscientist Dr.Wendy Suzuki in her Ted Talk.
In fact, exercising has even been shown to improve attention and focus for people who have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder )
Improves your motivation
Exercising increases the dopamine levels in your body which is the neurotransmitter that is primarily associated with motivation. Low levels of dopamine can result in :
Lack of focus
The increase in dopamine levels due to exercise helps to keep our motivation high and makes us less likely to succumb to unhealthy behaviours and procrastination.
Some of the other benefits regular exercise can have on your body and mind include:
Increase production of new brain cells
Lengthens life span
Improves your sleep
Relieves symptoms of depression
Slows down the aging of cells
Improve immune system functioning
Reduces your risk of chronic diseases
Make movement more a part of your life
Studies say that exercise alone may not be able to counter all the ill effects of sitting down excessively. Therefore it is highly advisable to make movement more a part of your life.
A simple way to lessen or negate the effects of excessive sitting is to take a five-minute walk for every hour that you spend sitting. Doing this can help to reduce fatigue, improve your mood and improve your ability to focus. If you are at work, your boss may not mind since various studies show this can make you more productive as well.
To exercise you don’t need to have a membership at the gym since there are plenty of alternative ways to get your body moving such as walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, aerobic exercise etc.
Some studies show that even squeezing in a high intensity 15 minutes work out per day will be enough to experience many of the benefits mentioned above. After all, doing something is better than nothing.
I’d highly recommend doing it in the morning since you will be able to enjoy the benefits for the rest of the day.
While I used to do some exercise occasionally over the past 3 years for 5-10 minutes, it didn’t have much of a positive impact in my life except for making me feel more energised while I was doing it. Nowadays I exercise for 20 -45 minutes on average and what I’ve observed is that the more I exert myself and make myself sweat, the better I feel by the end of it as well as for the rest of the day.
If you are not in the habit of exercising regularly, the first couple of weeks can be a little challenging. I would actually feel more tired and sleepy during the day during my first two weeks of exercising. But once you push through that phase and do it regularly for a month, the benefits of exercise will keep you motivated to do it daily and stick with it.
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