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15 Proven Emotional Benefits of Physical Activity You Need to Know

It’s the end of a stressful day and you’re already feeling better after only a few minutes of walking around the block. This is one of the many emotional benefits of physical activity.

How you move your body profoundly affects your state of mind.

Watch your motivation soar as you learn how physical activity improves your life and well being.

Note from Jennifer: This is a guest post from my friend, April, who blogs at shapelyways.com. She has some fantastic advice that I can’t wait to share with you. April has been very influential and encouraging to me on my own fitness journey.

( I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet. This content isn’t intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.)

How to Improve Your Mental Health

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Lifting your mood and energy is easy with physical activity. 

Dancing to one of your favorite songs can instantly improve your mental health. In fact, any vigorous physical activity will boost your mood within 5 minutes. You can’t help but feel better.

Making physical activity a daily part of your life creates long lasting happiness.

Warning Signs that Your Mental Health is Suffering

Your bad mood could be strongly related to a lack of exercise. It’s proven that those who exercise are happier and more connected than those who are sedentary.

When you know what to look for, you’re better able to correct your course. Here’s a list of emotional signals that could mean you need more activity in your day. 

  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability
  • Extremely high and low moods
  • Excessive fear, worry or anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits

Jennifer’s note: A friend of mine posted this quote once at a time that I was feeling really down and unmotivated. I didn’t want to do anything, little on exercise. I got up and did it anyway and I felt much better physically and mentally.

What Physical Activity Counts for Improving Emotional Benefits?

Even standing more and sitting less can have a positive benefit on your health and well being. 

While physical activity is less structured than exercise, it can have the same proven emotional benefits.

Increase your heart rate, breathing, perspiration, and tire your muscles to obtain the maximum benefits of physical activity. Here are some examples:

  • Gardening
  • Cleaning
  • Playing Chase with your Children
  • Taking the stairs
  • Dancing
  • Walking or hiking
  • Riding your bike

You’re looking for vigorous yet moderate physical activity. A gym membership is nice but there are many benefits to breaking a sweat at home.

Working a little faster, walking a little farther, and playing a little longer all increase the emotional benefits of physical activity. 

How Does Physical Activity Improve Emotional Benefits?

Physical activity increases blood circulation and sends signals to the mood-regulating regions of the brain that control memory, mood, and motivation.

Studies show exercise increases feel-good hormones and supports the growth of brain neurons. Both make you feel happier and more content. 

Research on the Emotional Benefits of Physical Activity

According to the US National Library of Medicine, “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.”

Alleviated symptoms of social withdrawal are an important benefit of physical activity too.

Keep reading to learn all the ways physical activity makes you happier. Plus, learn what to focus on to create a consistent habit of physical activity.

15 Emotional Benefits of Physical Activity

1. Physical Activity Lowers Stress and anxiety

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Exercise adapts your body to everyday stress better and faster. 

Triggered fight or flight signals are common. A rushed morning, traffic jams, deadlines, bad news, and negative media can all trigger your fight or flight response.

Once adrenaline is pumped into your body you naturally start breathing harder, perspiring, and your heart rate increases. These sensations signal fear which causes stress and anxiety. 

Vigorous physical activity triggers the same responses: heavy breathing, increased heart rate, sweating. Except, this time your mind associates these sensations with safety instead of danger. 

Your new conditioning allows you to deal with stressful situations with less fear and anxiety.

Physical activity toughens the brain up to stressful sensations

It gives you confidence to tackle the stressors in your life with more ease.

Related: 20 Helpful Tips for Living with Anxiety

What to do When You are Worrying Too Much

2. Physical Activity Improves Sleep

Sleep normalizes with daily physical activity.  Studies show a good night’s sleep improves your mood significantly. It causes you to feel tired earlier and have better sleep patterns. You tend to fall asleep more quickly, sleep longer, and deeper after physical activity.

Related: 16 Easy Ways to Still Your Mind So You Can Sleep

3. Physical Activity Expands Happiness

Physical activity stimulates the feel good chemicals in your body.

  • Endorphins

That euphoric feeling you have after a workout comes from endorphins. Much like morphine, endorphins block pain and give you a positive and energized outlook on life without any negative side effects.

  • Dopamine

This chemical messenger tells your brain something good is coming. It also lowers stress and improves mood and emotion. 

  • Epinephrine/Adrenaline

This chemical is why you might feel “meh” before your workout and like the Incredible Hulk afterward. An adrenaline rush is like human jet fuel.  Epinephrine is what kicks in after you start exercising. It increases your heart rate, boosts oxygen to the brain and muscles, feeds you energy,  keeps your brain on high alert, blocks pain, and heightens your immunity.

  • Serotonin

The queen of the feel-good hormones. Serotonin neurons are released during and after physical activity. These neurons make you feel an overall sense of well-being and happiness.

  • Endocannabinoid

Exercise gives you a natural high. Sometimes called the “runner’s high”. Longer, more intense physical activity stimulates cannabinoid receptors throughout the brain and body. Once activated, your endocannabinoid system gives you feelings of pure happiness, elation, a feeling of unity, and endless peacefulness.

4. Physical Activity Increases Motivation

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The hardest part of a new physical activity habit is starting. Once you start your feel-good hormones help motivate you to work out more often.  Your body will naturally start to crave movement. Instead of dreading intense activity, your mind will start looking for your next available opening to move. 

Focus more on the emotional benefits of physical activity and watch your motivation level up.

Related: The Secrets You Need to Build Motivational Skills

10 Powerful Self-Motivation Techniques

Questing for Self-Motivation to Achieve Your Personal Goals Course

5. Physical Activity Builds Self Confidence 

Increased physical activity improves strength, tone, and endurance. These naturally make you feel stronger and more confident. Plus, the sense of accomplishment that comes from exercise translates into more confidence and higher self-esteem too.

Related: 7 Quick Powerful Tips to Boost Your Self-Confidence Now

6. Physical Activity Boosts Brain Power

Exercise reduces inflammation, increases insulin resistance, and stimulates growth factor chemicals in the body. Physical activity increases oxygen to the brain and reduces brain bound free radicals. All of these benefits contribute to brain cell protection and growth.

Sharper thinking, improved memory, and creativity are some of the many benefits to the brain. Moreover, creativity is increased by 60% during and after walking. Many of our greatest thinkers are known for taking long walks to solve problems.

Jennifer’s note: I LOVE this! I also take walks when I am stuck, and I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to how the brain works and how we learn.

7. Physical Activity Strengthens Immunity

Feeling well is an important part of feeling good emotionally. Increased circulation during exercise has many benefits to your immune system. Bacteria are flushed from your system, immune cells circulate more rapidly, and inflammation is decreased. 

4 hours after a walk, your immune system is still heightened. When you add more physical activity to your weekly routine you receive these immune-boosting benefits over the long haul. Protection against age-related immune disorders is also an important benefit of regular physical activity.

8. Physical Activity Turns Down Anger and Tension

Physical activity won’t necessarily keep you from getting angry, but it can help you work through the emotion of anger and improve an angry mood. An unpleasant or stressful event triggers anger. An angry mood is longer lasting and not defined by a specific event.

According to research, 30 minutes of moderate exercise reduces anger levels. It also helps immunize you against an angry mood. Physical activity gives you a chance to think with a clear head and use increased creativity to solve nagging problems.

Related: How to Respond and Not React When You Get Mad

9. Physical Activity Reduces Depression

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Exercise is a meaningful activity that gives you a sense of accomplishment and reduces depression.

When you exercise, nerve cell growth increases. Experts attribute this cell growth to helping those with depression.

Stop your negative thoughts in their tracks. Vigorous activity or enjoying the beauty of a walk makes bad moods disappear.

10. Physical Activity Increases Energy

When you’re feeling tired, exercise is the last thing on your mind. But physical activity might be the very thing you need to move into a more energized state.  Exercise is proven to increase energy and decrease fatigue. Moreover, a regular exercise routine builds endurance and strength giving you even more energy.

11. Physical Activity Replaces Harmful Behaviors

Smoking, drinking, and laying around go against your health goals. Being physically active motivates you to fuel your body with healthy choices.

Exercise makes you rethink what you put into your body and how well you take care of it. 

Jennifer’s note: When I first started my fitness journey, I was determined to focus on one thing at a time. I did, but then I found that one thing led to another. One healthy habit started supporting more healthy habits. I found myself not only being more active and enjoying it, but healthier choices in other areas started becoming easier to make.

12. Physical Activity Develops a Positive Body Image

Long before you see physical improvements in your body, exercise gives you a positive body image.

A negative body image can discourage you from starting a regular exercise routine. Push past this resistance and you’ll find yourself feeling better about your body in no time. In the beginning, you may want to start your exercise routine alone. This takes away performance pressure until you’re feeling positive about your body.

Jennifer’s Note: When I find my inner critic whispering negative things about my body image, I usually counter it with “But today – I did something about it.” That helps me to let go of focusing on my flaws. I also found that documenting my journey with photographs helped a great deal. It kept me from comparing myself to others and reminds me of where I started and the progress that I have made.

Related: The Best Advice for Silencing the Inner Critic

13. Physical Activity Regulates Hormones

Hormonal and dangerous? Exercise to the rescue! Physical activity strongly influences hormonal balance and health.

So much so that if you aren’t regularly exercising you are increasing your unhappy hormones and decreasing the feel-good ones.  Watch your worse hormonal symptoms soften or go away with clean eating and regular exercise. 

14. Physical Activity Develops Social Relationships

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Your brain chemistry affects how you relate to others. When you move your muscles you boost good emotions making it easier to connect, bond, and trust others. 

On the other hand, a lack of exercise can lead to negative moods.  These make it difficult to connect with others and often lead to hostility. Hostility leads to isolation and decreased social support. All factors of a shorter life span.

Rethink your coffee dates. There is something about walking and talking that allows you to relax and open up. You’re able to talk about personal topics you might not feel comfortable bringing up face to face. 

15. Enhances Mood and Overall Sense of Well-being

With more self-confidence, happier hormones, increased immunity, better relationships, healthier habits, better sleep, more energy, and creativity, who wouldn’t be in a better mood and have a positive sense of well-being?

Exercise does your emotions good. You’ll feel better and accomplish more of your heart’s desires sooner with more physical activity.

Related: Simple Secrets to Being Happy and Content

What Happens Emotionally if You Don’t Exercise

A lack of physical activity can lead to depression, a lack of focus, anxiety, and many mental health disorders.  Dementia is more likely to develop in those who are not active and is a top-ranking cause of death in the US.

Finding time for physical activity is important for mental health and longevity.

Emotional Short Term Effects of Physical Activity

As little as 5 minutes can result in many of the emotional benefits of physical activity.

Most of these benefits linger for a few hours after exercise.

Emotional Long Term Benefits of Physical Activity

The emotional benefits of physical activity compound and strengthen over time. The longer you’re consistent with an exercise routine, the more benefits you receive. 

Physical activity brings you greater fulfillment and happiness.

What is the Best Exercise for Mental Health? 

Moving the body vigorously enough to raise your heart rate activates the emotional benefits of physical activity.

Walking, jogging, gardening, swimming, cycling, and dancing are some examples of physical activity that help mental health the most.

While research has focused on aerobic exercises, weight lifting is starting to be studied as well. The health benefits of lifting are similar to aerobic activities.

How Long Does it Take for Mental Health to Improve Mood/Depression

Within 5 min of moderate exercise, your mood starts to improve.  Even better, your exercise routine has long term effects on your mood. Active people are less depressed than inactive ones.  So while it might take longer to alleviate depression with exercise, it won’t take too long. Studies show depression is relieved in as little as 4 weeks of exercise. You’ll want to consistently exercise for continued results.

How Much Exercise do You Need for Mental Health

So many wonderful emotional benefits of physical activity! But what’s the least amount of time you can spend for the most amount of good?

30 minutes of moderate exercise for 3-5 days a week is enough for you to experience these mental health benefits. 

Furthermore, the 30 minutes don’t need to be continuous. You can split your time up during the day. A 15 min walk after lunch and then again after dinner gets you similar results. Of course, these are minimums and the more you move the better you will feel. 

Making Physical Activity a Habit for Emotional Benefits

If it  makes you feel so good,  why is it so hard to do?

Maybe you started an exercise program or took a class and were so sore afterward, you could barely move. We’ve all been there. Maybe your focus has been on the physical benefits of exercise, like losing weight, toning your muscles, preventing diabetes, lowering cholesterol, or improving your strength. These are important goals but it takes longer to see results. It could take up to a month to see noticeable physical changes. Becoming discouraged is easy but don’t give up.

Physical activity instantly pays off in good feelings.

Focusing on how you feel after a workout, can motivate you to get your daily dose of happiness and stress relief.

Be Patient with Yourself

Skipping exercise when it’s needed most is common. Depression and stress often send us to the couch with a bowl of ice cream and a Netflix movie.  Give yourself credit for big strides and baby steps alike. Developing an exercise habit takes time and patience. Keep working at it and you’ll see consistency pays off with big rewards. 

Every step you take in the right direction brings you more happiness.

Have you noticed mood improvements with exercise? What emotional benefit is most important to you? Do you struggle to be consistent with exercise?

Weight loss is a side effect of healthy living which makes healthy ways – shapely ways.

Homeschool mom of 4 boys, April uses her love of teaching and learning to help women focus on new habits and a positive mindset to achieve lasting health results. She shares the tips and tricks she’s learned (and is still learning!) so women have practical tools and resources to become their best self. As important she provides encouragement and a plan to get back on track when life doesn’t go as planned. Connect with her at shapelyways.com

Jennifer’s note: Leave a comment below with your questions or experiences. We love hearing from you!

4 thoughts on “15 Proven Emotional Benefits of Physical Activity You Need to Know”

  1. I love to run, it’s the one thing that hasn’t changed for me during all this Covid-19 stuff. 30 minutes to an hour, just me and the road, it gives me time to think about the day ahead and I feel great when I’ve finished. Even with all these great benefits I still struggle to get out of bed in a morning to do it, I really have to force myself.

    When I do it I feel great for the rest of the day and when I don’t I tend to feel sluggish and unmotivated, often punishing myself for the rest of the day. It’s weird, I want to do it, I know I’ll love it when I get out there and ofthen I still can’t be bothered.

    1. Wow Darren! Congrats to you for getting out there and running 30 mins to an hour. It’s nice to know that despite all the changes in the recent months some things stay the same. On the mornings that you do get out there, what gives you that little push to do it? Can you think of any small thing you might be able to do to trigger your morning run? (Like leaving your running shoes by the door or laying out your clothes?)

  2. aprilatshapelyways

    Same, Beth, same. It’s a vicious cycle. Here are 3 strategies that work well for me.

    #1 I sit and think of myself doing the activity and what it will take for me to be ready to do it.

    #2 Then I use Mel Robbins’ count down method. “5-4-3-2-1-Go!” It actually works.

    #3 Lastly, I schedule it, turn my mind off and just get up and do it when scheduled.

    Often times motivation comes after starting a workout.

    Thank you for your comment! ?

  3. TheLifeofaNavyNukeWife

    If I’m being completely honest, it’s so much easier to just sit on my bum all day, especially with this quarantine keeping us at home. It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I feel bad so I don’t want to do anything, then I feel bad because I’m not doing anything.

    This is great motivation to get up and do that workout I planned to do this afternoon, no time like the present!

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