Getting the Body and Mind Right: How Exercise Benefits the Brain

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    Are you aware of all the profound effects and benefits of regular exercise?  Most people recognize exercise as a healthy activity that is good for our physical well being.  Many people use exercise as a strategy to manage weight or improve their physical health, but did you know the benefits of exercise extend far past the physical realm?  Exercise has incredible benefits for the brain as well, showing great improvements on mental and overall brain health.  Physical activity is an incredibly important practice to begin incorporating into your life, and teaching teens to build these habits can help them carry it on to adulthood and develop a lifelong ritual of regular exercise.  

    Benefits of Regular Exercise

    Both adults and adolescents benefit tremendously from regular physical activity, but teens may actually need more exercise than adults, with the CDC recommending 60 or more minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity for adolescents.  This can include running, playing sports, physically engaging games, biking, brisk walking, and more.  Physical activity is so important for the growing adolescent as it promotes development as it supports building stronger muscles and bones, preventing the risk for certain diseases like osteoporosis later in life. 

    Building a habit of engaging in exercise regularly early in life can result in better health and quality of life as teens grow into adulthood.  Consistent physical activity has been shown to have a number of benefits to physical wellbeing and overall health in the long-term.  The following are some of the proven immediate and long-term benefits of physical activity:

    Immediate Benefits

    Some of the benefits of physical activity on brain health happen immediately after or even during exercise.  Those benefits include improved cognition or thinking for children ages 6-13 and reduced anxiety for adults and teenagers.  

    Long-term Health Benefits

    Making physical activity a part of your daily routine can have a number of long-term health benefits.  Try to fit in some form of activity into you and your teens routine everyday but be sure to take a few breaks every now and then.  To receive the full benefits of physical activity it is best to incorporate a variety of activities including aerobic exercise, cardio, stretching, and more.  The following are the benefits that exercise has on your physical health in the long-term, and why you should incorporate it into you and your family’s routine.

    • Weight Management.  Staying at a healthy weight is important for your health and wellbeing.  Obesity has been linked to a number of severe health complications, including heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.  Regular physical activity is a great way to manage and maintain a healthy weight.
    • Reduces risk for diseases.  Engaging in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 150 minutes a week can significantly reduce your risk for chronic disease in the long-term.  This includes reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, as well as some cancers (breast, colon, lung, bladder, kidney, stomach, esophagus, endometrium).  It does this by boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, and helps to control blood glucose levels.   
    • Strengthens Bones and Muscles.  Protecting your bones, joints and muscles with physical activity is important both in development, and as we age.  Regularly practicing aerobic activity can slow the loss of bone density that comes naturally as we age.   
    • Increases Life Longevity.  Research and science have shown that physical activity has remarkable impacts on our wellbeing, and not many other lifestyle choices have such profound impacts on health.  Regular physical activity has been associated with a 33 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who are physically inactive.            

    Exercise and Mental Health

    With the world becoming more open about mental health nowadays, we have begun to recognize the importance of caring for and preserving our own mental health.  Physical activity is one of the most powerful modalities you can use to support your mental and emotional wellbeing.  Even if you do not suffer from a mental health disorder, you can still reap the benefits of physical activity to boost your mood, confidence, and mental well-being.  Regular exercise has been linked to a number of mental benefits, explained in detail below:

    • Improvements on brain health.  Regular exercise shows improvements or protective factors on brain health as you age.  It helps to keep your thinking, learning, and judgement skills sharp, and has even been shown to reduce your risk of depression as well as anxiety, and help you sleep better.  
    • Reduces stress and inflammation.  Exercise is a great stress reliever.  It helps by releasing endorphins into the brain, which helps relax muscles and relieve tension within the body.  In addition, exercise reduces fat mass and adipose tissue inflammation, which is known to contribute to systemic inflammation.  Since the body and brain are so closely linked, when the body feels better the brain will follow.  This connection is a major reason as to why physical activity has such profound effects on both physical and mental wellbeing.   
    • Improves anxiety and depression.  Studies have found exercise to be just as effective in treating symptoms of depression as antidepressants.  Daily physical activity has been shown to reduce your risk of major depression by 26% as well as relieve depression symptoms.  Exercise may be a great alternative to antidepressants as it does not come with the negative side-effects, as well as being natural and sustainable.    
    • Sharper memory and thinking.  Not only are the endorphins released during exercise good for mood, but they’re also good for the brain as well.  Exercise helps to boost concentration and stimulate the growth of new brain cells, preventing age-related cognitive decline.  
    • Higher self-esteem.  Physical activity helps to foster the mind, body and soul. Participating in physical activity can make us feel like we are doing something good for ourselves and can help build self-worth.  In addition, it may improve feelings about appearance as well as provide a sense of accomplishment for meeting your exercise goals.  
    • More energy and better sleep.  Getting your blood pumping in the morning in particular can help to give you the energy you need to start your day.  Exercise oxygenates blood, providing the brain and other vital organs with freshly energized blood to keep you going throughout the day.  On top of having more energy, you can work to regulate your sleep pattern by practicing regular physical activity.   
    • Stronger resilience.  When experiencing hardships in life you can use exercise as a way to build resiliency and overcome tough challenges.  Exercise can be a great and healthy coping mechanism as opposed to alcohol or drugs, which can make symptoms worse. 

    What is the Mind-Body Connection?

    Some of you may have heard about the mind-body connection many times before, while others may be just hearing of this concept today.  But what exactly is the mind-body connection?  The mind-body connection is the notion that our mental well-being affects our physical well-being.  Our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can negatively or positively affect our health.  While on the other hand, our lifestyle choices, what we eat, and activity levels affect our mental well-being.  This could explain why science has seen a link between physical and mental health.  

    Emphasizing the mind-body connection to your teen can help them to understand the importance of taking care of their health, and that their choices can affect multiple aspects of their wellbeing.  Understanding the connection between the mind and body can also help your teen to understand that adopting a habit of physical activity is crucial to their health and plays a larger role on the body than just “looking good”.  Helping your teen to fully understand the benefits of exercising can help them to develop a life-long habit of engaging in physical activity, which will have both immediate and long-term benefits.  Exercise is one of the most powerful mechanisms we have for promoting our own well-being and it has a large impact on the health and development of adolescents.  This is why it is so important to emphasize and educate your teen on the importance of living an active lifestyle, yet an astonishingly low percentage of teens and adolescents are meeting physical activity guidelines.  We have begun to adopt sedentary lifestyles and it has shown its impact in our rise in obesity, chronic disease, and mental health conditions.  It is crucial to the health of our youth that we begin to encourage and demonstrate healthy lifestyle choices in efforts to promote the wellbeing of our society.       

    Red Mountain Colorado Can Help 

    Red Mountain Colorado is a residential treatment center for teens ages 13-17 who are struggling with behavioral or emotional issues.  Throughout the program, we work to empower teens to build healthy coping mechanisms and habits they can take with them into adulthood to help overcome obstacles or challenges they may face in their lives.  We use holistic approaches to rehabilitation including mindfulness, adventure, and physical activity.  Students at Red Mountain Colorado learn how to apply the skills and mechanisms they learn into their everyday lives, leaving teens feeling empowered and in control of their own wellbeing.  We can help your family today!

    For more information about our program at Red Mountain Colorado, please call (970) 316- 7594. 

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