When we talk about our health, we’re talking about something very broad. We’re talking about not being fat, but also about good nutrition; about staying sane, but also about staying happy and calm; about avoiding illness and injury, but also about maintaining a fit body and a healthy diet. “Health” is what doctors deal with but also what nutritionists, therapists, and even yoga instructors deal with.
Understanding holistic health
“Holistic” health recognizes that health as a whole combines all sorts of different aspects of our well-being, from how happy we are to whether or not we have a broken bone right at this moment.
This can make health feel complicated. To be truly healthy, we need to cover all sorts of categories, from eating well to paying our health insurance bills. And holistic health certainly focuses on this: holistic health advice covers everything from what to eat to how to meditate. But the flip side of this is that the good things we do for our health have impacts that go beyond the immediate thing we’re focusing on. And few things make this clearer than exercise, which strengthens the body and reduces fat while also making us happier and helping us to think more clearly.
Your brain on exercise
The mental benefits of exercise are as numerous as they are well-documented. Here are just a few of the ways that exercise can be good for your brain:
- It makes you happy. Exercise releases endorphins, which elevate your mood. Ever hear of a “runner’s high?” Now you know what it is.
- It can help you remember things. Exercising in the morning has been shown to increase information retention.
- It repairs damaged brain cells. Yes, really: aerobic exercise can actually revive damaged brain cells.
- It gives you better reasoning skills. Believe it or not, studies show that the parts of the brain associated with reason and executive function are literally larger, by volume, in folks who exercise
Your plan going forward
So what does all of this mean? Simple: it means you ought to exercise!
The good news is that it isn’t just one type of exercise that can lead to all of these beneficial effects for your mood and your brain. From old sports you used to love in high school to a simple walk around your own neighborhood, there are countless ways to get your body moving.
The key, though, is commitment. If you don’t stick to your exercise habits, you won’t turn them into a habit. Try different tricks to make sure that you stand by your decision to live healthier: join a gym and get a personal trainer who will keep you accountable, or share your progress with friends to create accountability within your own social circle. Track your progress with journals and calendars. Promise yourself that you’ll donate a certain amount of money if you break your commitment (better yet, promise yourself that you’ll donate it to a group you disagree with!).
If you stick with your exercise plan long enough, you’ll find that the mental benefits will help it become a habit. The joy and energy that exercise can give you will make you more likely to want to do it each day, and you may even find that you’re irritable if you can’t get active. That’s your body reminding you of what you now know: that exercise is good for your mood and your brain as well as for your body.