You know how your doctor keeps telling you to do some aerobic exercise to help your heart, or ease your hypertension, or otherwise aid your physical health?
Listen to them. Because it turns out that advice is not even close to the end of the story. The scientific facts are in, and exercise doesn’t just make your body healthier. It makes your mind healthier — and smarter, and happier, and more loving and productive. It’s the best mental health tool you have.
Seems like an obvious question, right? But in our success-driven culture, we tend to prioritize things other than our health — like work performance. So let’s start there.
You’ll Be a Better Employee
Researchers at the University of Bristol and Leeds Metropolitan University found that office workers who used their office gyms during the day reported, not only better mood, but increased ability to concentrate, to respond to stress, and to get along with their coworkers. In other words, they became all around better employees if they exercised. Better yet, this effect occurred across a variety of types and durations of workouts; employees chose their own routines.
You don’t have to take a very long exercise break to make it count. Just cut your lunch in half, or walk around the building a few times a day. Sports scientist Jack Groppel piloted a three-month program at New Balance shoe company designed to get employees moving for just 30 minutes a day, and it worked — 42% of employees who reported their results said they increased their engagement and concentration.
You’ll Be More Romantic
In even weirder news, get this: even a little bit of exercise can actually make you more attractive to, and attracted to, other people. If you’re already partnered, this is great news for your love life; if you’re out there looking, it bodes well for your search. Find time to exercise with other people, and keep those good vibes coming.
You’ll Be Protected from Depression and Anxiety
And now let’s get to the really important stuff. The same University of Bristol study found that that the mood-lifting effects of exercise were especially true of employees who reported higher baseline levels of anxiety and depression. In other words, exercise is particularly protective of your mental health if you tend toward a lower baseline mood.
Study after study for the last two decades confirm this finding for all sorts of exercise regiments, but especially aerobic exercise like walking. In some cases it’s worked better than antidepressants, so much so that the American Psychological Association has written that its members should prescribe it to their patients to treat depression.
This is of huge benefit for the 15 million adults in the U.S. affected by serious depression and the 40 million affected by anxiety. And research published as recently as May suggests that exercise is also of immense benefit to folks affected by more uncommon mental health issues like bipolar disorder.
So that’s it, folks. Exercise is awesome for your brain, and just a little of it goes a long way. So take the stairs, park farther away, and start strolling around the neighborhood at night. You’ll feel better.
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