Exercise has been the middle child of good health for a while. No one would argue that it’s a big part of the family, but it easily gets crowded out by all the other stuff that seems more important.
Like helping your kids with homework, staying afloat at work, picking up dinner, and taking care of an aging parent.
We all know exercise is good for your heart and lungs, and it can keep your weight in check, too, as long as you don’t eat from the taco truck too much.
But its real power is in how it can make you feel better.
Not happier necessarily.
Just better for all those important things you have to do.
And it’s not just about an old-school, 1970s endorphin rush.
Exercise improves your mood.
There seems to be a connection between low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin and depression. Many of the most popular antidepressants work by allowing the brain to produce and absorb serotonin more efficiently.
So serotonin kind of reps as a mood balancer on the streets of depression.
Exercise increases production of serotonin. In fact, exercise can improve mood in as little as five minutes and if you exercise hard enough, the effects can last for several hours.
So a little walk or bike ride can truly lift your spirits.
That sounds really nice.
Exercise helps with sleep.
Getting to sleep and staying there is a huge problem for many of us. Bad sleep affects mood, cognitive performance, and appetite.
I don’t know about you but crappy sleep can color my whole day. (Tread softly on those days, my friend.)
Exercise rallies sleep to your side by raising your body temperature. When your body temperature comes back down a few hours later, it makes you sleepy.
It’s the same mechanism that helps you sleep better when it’s cozy and 67 degrees in your bedroom.
Plus, your muscles are all nice and relaxed from the exertion.
While you’re sleeping, your body is pressure washing a whole cocktail of toxins from your brain and cataloging your memories. This is an important process and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
See how far reaching exercise is?
Exercise reduces levels of cortisol, the evildoer of anxiety.
When you feel anxious, your body goes into full-on DEFCON mode.
As the whitewater wave of adrenaline makes it way through your body, your adrenal glands start squirting out buckets of cortisol to get the body ready to move out of danger.
Your heart rate elevates, your blood pressure goes up, your pupils dilate, and you start sweating.
This is great news if you’re running from an angry grizzly bear but not so much if you’re taking a math test on a sunny Thursday afternoon.
Exercise brings that fight or flight response back to normal levels.
That matters because all that constant wear and tear on your cardiovascular and adrenal systems is not ideal. You need those to work correctly in order to be healthy.
Exercise makes you breathe.
Yoga combines the best of both worlds because of its focus on breathing. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing reduces those same elevated responses during an anxiety attack.
Learning to breathe that way all the time can keep you in a relaxed state. You at least have a shot at responding to the challenges of life with a bit more focus and concentration.
And all this comes with extra points if you exercise outside, in nature, which is where you usually find nature.
Not only is the Vitamin D good for you, as we’ve all known since kindergarten, but physical activity outdoors may reduce cortisol as well.
And here’s the thing, you don’t have to try to be ripped and shredded.
You don’t need to throw kettle bells around (unless that’s your thing, just warn a girl so she can duck).
Just do something.
Take a brisk walk.
Go for a bike ride.
Go for a swim.
Chase the dog.
Delight your neighbors by letting the dog chase you.
Move so your mind and body can get on a real path to resilience and wellness.
I didn’t make this up. Here are some sources: