Physical fitness: Good for your mind too

You already know regular exercise improves cardiovascular and muscular fitness, bone health, and sleep. Meeting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week also reduces your risk of heart disease—the No. 1 killer of Americans every year—as well as stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

But did you know regular physical activity also benefits your mental performance? As you face high physical or mental workloads, the resilience you can build up from physical activity helps you better tolerate physical and mental stress. Not only do stressors take less of a toll on your body when you’re resilient, you also recover faster.

Resilience: The ability to withstand, recover, and grow in the face of stressors and changing demands

For example, if you’ve ever started working out again after a few months off, you might remember feeling more tired and sore afterward in those first few days than you did when you were working out regularly. Yet once you got back into the habit of working out, you felt better and better.

Your mind also improves from regular exercise. Getting back into the gym can be hard, stressful, and disappointing if you have a bad workout. But as you keep going, you become more motivated, your mood gets better, and you can even start to handle other stressors better—making you more resilient.

Regular physical activity also has protective effects against depression and anxiety, putting you at lower risk for developing them. And if you’ve already been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, exercise can help reduce your symptoms.

Many Military Service Members thrive with structure, so adding exercise to your daily routine can go a long way. Getting in the gym door the first time is often the hardest part. Start by setting goals for yourself. Try to make the goals fitness-based, even if you’re exercising to help your brain. The added psychological benefits will come with time. You might also build a periodized workout plan. Having a long-term schedule can help you stay on track, rather than working out by the seat of your pants a couple times a week.

Bottom line

Regular physical exercise is good for your body, mind, and spirit. Aim to get the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity each week, and you’ll likely feel better in more ways than you’d expect.

References

Choi, K. W., Chen, C.-Y., Stein, M. B., Klimentidis, Y. C., Wang, M.-J., Koenen, K. C., & Smoller, J. W. (2019). Assessment of bidirectional relationships between physical activity and depression among adults. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4175

Khanzada, F. J., Soomro, N., & Khan, S. Z. (2015). Association of physical exercise on anxiety and depression amongst adults. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan, 25(7), 546–548.

Schuch, F. B., Vancampfort, D., Firth, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P. B., Silva, E. S., . . . Stubbs, B. (2018). Physical activity and incident depression: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(7), 631–648. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17111194

Stanton, R., & Reaburn, P. (2014). Exercise and the treatment of depression: A review of the exercise program variables. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 17(2), 177–182. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2013.03.010

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical activity guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from Washington, DC: https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/pdf/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf