The psychological benefits of exercise are numerous, and regularly pursuing even simple activities like walking can have a significant effect on the way people think and feel. The one thing most people immediately point to is an elevation in self-esteem, but the matter may be much more complex. It’s arguable that most psychological benefits of exercise spring from a single source: the ability for exercise to elevate chemicals, called neurotransmitters, in the brain.
Several of the main neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin are indicated in keeping mood stable and balanced. When they are not available in significant supply, people suffer from conditions such as depression and anxiety. The reason scientists are comfortable discussing the psychological benefits of exercise is because they are aware that exercise, even as little as 30 minutes three times weekly, boosts neurotransmitter levels. This can have a strong impact on mood, possibly keeping people from getting depressed or anxious, or helping to play a supportive role in a treatment plan for people who suffer from these conditions or other mood disorders. Alone, exercise might not fully cure depression or anxiety, but it can help to reduce it or prevent it.
Exercise elevates self-esteem, most likely because neurotransmitters may have an effect on how people perceive themselves and could cause people to feel more positive. Another factor is at work; with exercise comes the possible benefits of weight loss and positive changes in appearance, and this can also make people feel better about themselves.
Neurotransmitters also play a role in how people handle stressful events or everyday stress. Another of the psychological benefits of exercise is that it does appear to help reduce stress levels, which has numerous advantages. People who are normally “stressed out” are often told to try to relax, but relaxing shouldn’t exclude practicing regular physical activity. Inactivity may actually lead to higher stress levels, and those trying to manage stress will be better served by walking, bicycling, aerobic dancing or other cardio pursuits.
One of the additional psychological benefits of exercise is that it may improve focus, and this been marginally tested with small groups of people who have attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Less than an hour’s exercise improves ability to focus, possibly still due to production of neurotransmitters. Some researchers believe that exercise will also work this way for anyone, and those who get regular amounts might have better thinking ability and alertness at all times, which can be a benefit at school or work.