aging gracefully impact aerobic exercise mental health

It goes without saying that making fitness a top priority in your life will work wonders for your body. You’ll drastically improve your cardiovascular health and build denser bones. You’ll become stronger and more flexible as well.

What you may not be as aware of is that taking regular advantage of your gym membership is just as good for your mind as it is the rest of your body. In fact, it’s been proven that exercise boosts brain function in a number of noteworthy ways, especially when it comes to helping you stay healthy and happy as you age. Let’s take a closer look at just a few of the advantages of staying fit throughout your lifetime.

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Exercise boosts your mood and keeps depression at bay.

The concept of the runner’s high may sound like a myth to the uninitiated, but it’s a real thing. You don’t necessarily need to be a runner to experience it, either. Any form of exercise results in the release of endorphins, your body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

 

That’s what is responsible for the feeling of happiness and well-being you tend to feel after a good workout.

Endorphins don’t just do a great job of keeping you feeling chipper on an everyday basis, either. They can help treat, manage, and prevent depression as well—something that becomes very important as you age. In some cases, exercising regularly can be as effective as prescription antidepressants. You don’t have to practically live at the gym to reap the benefits, either. Just 20-30 minutes of exercise several times a week is often enough for people to notice a significant boost in overall mood.

keep depression at bay infographic

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Exercise helps fight the effects of stress.

If you have a stressful job or tend to have a lot on your plate as a rule, you and stress are probably on a first name basis by now. Stress isn’t just bad for your emotional well-being, either. If it becomes a chronic problem, it can also start to affect your physical and mental health.

Lacing up those cross trainers and hitting the jogging trail or the elliptical machine is one of the best ways to keep stress from cramping your style. In addition to triggering an endorphin release, exercise also raises your body’s levels of norepinephrine, a key chemical when it comes to stress management. It’s definitely a great reason to hit the gym instead of the bar after an especially grueling day at the office!

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Exercise helps keep your mind sharp as you age.

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If your grandparents sometimes seem a little forgetful or hazy, it’s most likely not your imagination. The mind ages just like the body as we grow older, eventually leading to cognitive decline and occasional cases of “senioritis.” Degenerative ailments like Alzheimer’s can make this natural process even more pronounced.

Thankfully, there’s plenty you can do to help keep your mind firing on all cylinders well into old age, and exercise is easily one of the most effective. When paired with a health-conscious diet, regular exercise can help safeguard the brain against much of the decline associated with aging, as well as improve memory and learning ability. This is especially the case if you live a fitness-conscious lifestyle between the key ages of 25 and 45.

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Exercise can help control or prevent addiction.

Everyone loves the feeling of reward and satisfaction that washes over you when you do something you really enjoy, whether that’s eating a cheeseburger or unlocking a new level on your favorite video game. That’s dopamine, your brain’s natural “reward chemical,” at work. Substances like alcohol or drugs cause an especially intense rush of dopamine that can be easy to crave in an unhealthy way.

If addiction is a problem for you or anyone you love, exercise can help in a number of ways. To begin with, choosing to engage in some form of exercise in response to a craving can help addicts manage that craving in the short term. In the long term, exercise can help people stay sober by giving them something else to focus on. Exercise also helps reset your natural body clock, which is easily disrupted when you regularly consume alcohol or drugs and/or rely on them to sleep.

 

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Exercise can send your self-esteem and confidence through the roof.

woman exercising rowing machineConfidence is a huge factor in how good we feel about ourselves at any age, but it becomes especially important as we get older. Many older people struggle with feeling relevant, vital, and engaged with life, especially if they’re retired or have serious health issues. 

Maintaining an ongoing relationship with your rowing machine or the weight room at the gym is an excellent way to become super confident, but stay that way throughout your life. Exercise helps keep people of all weights, ages, and sizes not only looking their best but feeling that way, too. Plus, you just can’t beat the feeling of accomplishment that comes with reaching your goals and seeing visible proof that you’re evolving into the best possible version of yourself.

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Exercise can help you become smarter.

You already know that exercise is a surefire way to build stronger muscles, joints, and bones. However, there’s also quite a bit of evidence to suggest it not only protects the brain power you have, but it helps your body create new brain cells as well.

Studies show that rigorous workouts increase your brain’s levels of the protein BDNF. Among other things, BDNF is thought by experts to make you better at learning, making decisions, and thinking at a higher level. Those are abilities many people would love to develop, no matter what age we are.

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Exercise can make you better at remembering things.

Tired of spacing out about where you parked the car or where you left your cell phone? Been dreaming about mastering a second language or finally learning how to cook? You might want to think about paying more attention to your hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for both learning new things and recalling information. Exercise can totally help you with that!

Studies on brain function and development in children have shown that there’s a strong link between physical fitness and the ability to recall learned information. It’s not just children and young people that get better at all things related to learning if they exercise, either. Adults of all ages, including middle-aged folks and senior citizens, also show sharpened memory function when they make it a point to work out.

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Exercise can make you a more productive person.

If you often fall victim to a mid-afternoon slump, you’re definitely not alone. Even the best of us can go through periods where we’re feeling sluggish or just uninspired. Next time that unfamiliar feeling hits, try lacing up your running shoes and going for a quick jog instead of reaching for yet another energy drink.

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It might seem that working out might make you even more tired than you already are, but the opposite is true. According to research, working people who exercise frequently are more energetic overall than those who choose to remain sedentary. They’re also a lot more productive. That said, buying a treadmill to keep in the corner of your office might be thebest way to score that next promotion. It’ll keep you spry and active as you age, too.

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Exercise can make it easier to relax at night.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why you sleep so well after a long day on the go or when you’ve spent the afternoon doing something strenuous? Moving around and being active raises your body’s core temperature, and that temperature takes a good five or six hours to drop all the way back down to normal level. When that eventually happens, it’s the body’s natural signal that it’s time to go to sleep.

Best of all, any type of vigorous activity can help produce this effect for your body, including your daily workout. In fact, a moderately paced, perfectly timed workout is capable of being just as effective as a sleeping pill for many people. Try doing a little lifting or light aerobics a few hours before it’s time to hit the sack and see if you’re one of them!

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Exercise can help get rid of creative blocks.

If you’re an artist, a writer, or a creative person of any type, your gym membership may not be the first thing that comes to mind as a great way to dissolve a creativity block, but perhaps it should be. A little aerobic exercise does a lot more than raise your metabolism and get your blood pumping. It’s been shown to boost creativity for up to two hours after you’re finished.

That said, try cultivating a habit of getting in your daily workout, and then make time to sit down after to work on your creative outlet of choice. You might be surprised at how easily the ideas start to come to you. This is a great way to work through problem-solving blocks at work or domestic issues at home.

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Exercise is a great way to stay engaged with the world around you.

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As people get older, it can be easy to grow isolated and lose a connection with the community. Among other things, that process can be really hard on a person’s mental and emotional health. Staying active and making it a point to exercise regularly is one of the best ways to make sure that doesn’t happen.

If you usually just work out at home, try supplementing your routine with an aerobics class or making a standing appointment with your BFF to hit the tennis court every Wednesday afternoon. Finding outdoor workout options to enjoy is a great way to break up your routine as well. Plus, spending time out in nature has been proven to work wonders for a person’s mental health. Hiking, rock climbing, taking a swim in the ocean, or even just enjoying your morning jog in the park are all great options.

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Exercise gives you a rewarding new way to matter to others.

Exercise is a lot more than just an awesome way to take care of your body and lower your chances of developing certain ailments later in life. Connecting to others in a way that really matters is an amazing way to not only change lives but stay mentally healthy as well. Exercise rarely happens in a vacuum, after all.

According to science, workouts are more effective when you do them with others, whether that means going for a jog with your spouse or joining your company’s softball team. Why is this? No one likes to let other people down, so they’re more likely to give a group workout their all. Also, people love the feeling that comes with inspiring others to be and do their best.

Feeling like you are part of something great and knowing you matter to others is important to anyone, but it becomes even more valuable the older you get. In other words, making fitness a central part of your life now is perhaps one of the wisest investments you could make in your golden years, whether they’re a long way off or right around the corner. Get started today! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.