Your Brain on Fitness

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How does physical fitness benefit your mental health?

This post is sponsored by Palmer Lake Recovery

It’s almost January, aka the month where the majority of New Years Resolutions center around getting healthy. Traditionally, this means a new (or, often renewed) dedication to physical fitness. What many people don’t realize is the connection between physical fitness and mental health. Physical fitness can be a wonderful form of mental therapy.

To channel my early 2000s examples, I will let Elle Woods of the movie Legally Blonde explain:

“Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.” 

Thank you, Elle.

Elle’s example is accurate. The act of exercise does release endorphins (the “happy hormone”) as a response to the physical movement. In the short-term, the release of endorphins does make you feel happy. In the long-term, it benefits much more than that.

We all know that the practice of fitness is good for your body – it delivers extra oxygen, strengthens your muscles, and improves cardiac health. But did you know that exercise also has profound mental health benefits?


Yoga has been gaining in popularity as students recognize the incredible benefits of regular yoga practice. Studies have actually indicated that practicing yoga consistently goes beyond increased flexibility and muscle strength. The practice of yoga is actually used alongside psychotherapy and noted to show improvement in mood stability, depression, and even schizophrenia. Some drug and alcohol rehab centers have even incorporated it into their therapy programs, to help patients recover the sense of belonging and purpose that comes with the slow and intentional movements of yoga. You can do yoga at home via YouTube videos, or try out local studios with Groupon discounts.


I have a love/hate relationship with running. I love it because once you hit that stride, it’s like nothing can stop you and your endorphins are just incredible. I hate it because I haven’t been able to do it in so long that I get easily winded and I will be starting all over again.

The thing I loved most about running was the empowerment I felt. When I wanted to give up and just walk, when I was whiny about how far I’ve already gone, I would pick a stop sign or a tree out in front of me, and I wouldn’t stop running until I got there. There is nothing quite like doing something you didn’t think you could do, and then doing it over and over again. Pretty soon you find yourself smashing other goals and formerly limiting beliefs.

Studies have shown that running is an effective coping mechanism for anxiety, depression, and even a weak memory. The confidence and calm that came from completing a good run was always the motivation I used when motivation was otherwise gone (I did start running while working night shift as a nurse, after all). My best runs were always after dealing with frustrating patients, or if I found something in my life to be stressful. Running was definitely my favorite form of therapy.

This spring we plan to get a double jogging stroller so Peter and I can start running with the boys. I figure pushing the stroller will slow Peter down enough that I will actually be able to keep up with him. 🙂

Pick and Commit

Small steps make up big movements when strung together. These sorts of self-improvements tend to have a snowball effect on life. Once one habit is created, it makes way for another new habit to be formed.

This January, when making your list of goals for the year, don’t forget physical fitness – and stick with it! Your body – and your mind – will thank you!


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