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We have all heard that exercise is good for us. The physical benefits, ranging from reducing the chances of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes to lowering blood pressure, are no surprise. Or that we sleep better, feel better and probably look healthier too. But beyond that, what are the mental and emotional benefits?

Here are 8 reasons that exercise is not only good for your body, but is like a powerful energizer, clarifier, confidence-booster, and offers so many other benefits for your mind as well. Research has even found that exercise can be as effective as an antidepressant!

Here’s why:

Let’s start with two studies. In the first, moderately depressed men and women were divided into 3 groups: a group that did exercise, a social support group, and a control group. The exercise group walked 20 to 40 minutes 3x/week for 6 weeks, a pretty manageable challenge. Conclusion: the exercise program relieved the overall symptoms of depression, and turned out to be much more effective than the other 2 groups. The second study brought in another group of depressed adults to take part in a 12 week fitness program. Not only did participants show significantly greater improvements in depression, anxiety, and self-concept than those in a control group, they kept many of these gains through the 12-month follow-up. Twelve weeks of exercise influenced twelve months of feeling better.

Benefits according to the Mayo Clinic:

1. More brain chemicals: Exercise releases endorphins (which promote a runner’s high), as well as other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of wellbeing. It’s important to remember that there’s real value is in consistent low-intensity exercise as well – it’s a personal choice.

2. Less Worry: Exercise alleviates the anxiety loop. It takes your mind off worries so you can get away from the constant narrative of negative thoughts that end up reinforcing depression and anxiety. This is a great way to change your state.

3. Increased confidence:  By accomplishing exercise goals or challenges, you feel like you are making progress. One caveat - don’t make the goals TOO unrealistic – set yourself up to win! Getting in shape can also make you feel better about your appearance – who doesn’t want some of that?

4. Stronger social connection: Exercise and physical activity may also give you the chance to meet or socialize with others. Working out with an accountability buddy is a great way to bond, encourage each other and have a laugh. Even exchanging a smile with someone new as you take a walk can make you both happier!

5. Increased emotional resilience:Doing something positive to manage depression or anxiety is a healthy coping strategy, much better than resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other unsupportive self soothing strategies that end up making symptoms worse.

6. More peace though nature – doing exercise outside not only exposes you to sunlight (Vitamin D), it is a natural way to re-center and calm the nervous system. Mindfulness increases as you slow down, notice the beauty around you, and realign with the rhythm of life.

7. Reduced brain fog that comes with age: Exercise prevents degenerationof the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning. Beyond better memory, it can help your mind stay sharp.

8. Increased energy and productivity: Have you ever noticed that you had more energy after moving your body? If you are stuck on a project, take an exercise break or just walk around the block. You will come back mentally refreshed with greater access to your creativity.

Think outside of the box

You don’t have to go the gym. Dancing to your favorite music, gardening, washing your car, or even walking your dog will all help improve your mood. Take the stairs or if you are close enough, ride your bike to work. Maybe park a little further away from your destination, so you don’t have to make time for exercise – it’s already built into your day. According to an Australian study, regular exercise may prevent many cases of future depression, and researchers say that as little as one hour a week may even prevent depression.

An all-natural treatment to help fight depression

Exercise is a powerful way to improve our mood and change our state.  Movement very simply gets us out of our head and into our bodies. According to Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, although “exercise alone isn't enough for someone with severe depression, for some people it works as well as antidepressants." Though we can’t control all the events that lead to stress, regular exercise reduces the IMPACT of that stress. Ready for some of that?

The thing about exercise is that you can do it for free, on your own time, by yourself or with a friend! Find out what is fun for you (I love yoga) and build in a little more of that into your life. Instead of robbing you of your time, it will give you the gift of greater confidence, a brighter outlook and more clarity. You have the power to energize your life and manage your mind, and exercise is one of the best ways to jumpstart your journey and keep you moving forward.

About Randy Taran
Chief Happiness Officer at Project Happiness. Randy Taran is the Founder of Project Happiness. To explore the question, “What brings lasting happiness?”, Randy produced a documentary film where students from three continents worked together on this quest, interviewing George Lucas, Richard Gere, neuroscientist Richard Davidson, and ultimately, The Dalai Lama. Randy speaks regularly on various happiness, well-being and youth-related issues, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. She is a Yoga Alliance certified teacher and holds an MBA in International Business and Marketing from New York University. Randy serves on the Board of the Dalai Lama Foundation and lives with her family and two happy dogs near Palo Alto, California.