According to statistics compiled by the World Health Organization and reported on by the Washington Post, an eye-opening 66.3% of Americans were overweight or obese in 2015. Approximately 35% of Americans fall into the latter category, compared to just 10% in the 1950s. It may not be a coincidence that, with the rising number of overweight people in the US comes with it another unfortunate increase: stress. Roughly 44% of Americans feel more stressed now than they were 5 years ago. Right now, America has an out-of-shape, way-too-stressed epidemic going on within its borders. Fortunately for those who fall into any of the statistics above, exercise may be the cure-all that we need.
Daily exercise has obvious physical health benefits. There is a direct correlation between exercise and weight loss, this much doesn’t need to be extrapolated on. However what many don’t know is the connection between physical fitness and your mental well-being.
Exercise, including light jogging or weight lifting has long been utilized as a means of treating depression. As you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which help elevate your mood and increase feelings of happiness and serenity. In the same vein, regular exercise can help you relax and take your mind off of what’s bothering you most. If you’re feeling stressed out by work, school or your personal life, exercise can be beneficial in more ways than one.
The wonders of physical fitness extend beyond depression in the mental realm as well, as the chemicals released by your brain during regular activity can also help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, ADHD and PTSD.
Similarly, studies have shown that daily exercise has the ability to reduce burnout and stress when properly utilized. This means that maintaining your physical fitness regimen (or starting one) can actually help your performance not only in your next 5K, but at work. Two of the biggest killers of productivity in an office setting are the stresses of the job and employee burnout. Burnout, or the feeling of mental and physical exhaustion after a long day (or week, or month) of work leads to high employee turnover, low morale, and low work efficiency. Exercise can help alleviate both of these feelings while actually increasing your brain power, believe it or not.
Studies upon studies have shown that exercise not only gives you time to relax and destress, it also helps power your brain and increase cognitive function. As you continue to get physical exercise, your brain gets its own form of mental fitness, as the hippocampus (the part of our brain primarily responsible for memory and learning) sees a leap in function and development as the owner of said brain continues to stay active. However, you shouldn’t expect to hit the gym and see an immediate jump in productivity; typically regular exercise is to thank for increased mental and physical health, as the directly measurable effects of productivity come as a result of continued and consistent physical activity.
If you’ve found yourself overwhelmed by work lately, particularly stressed out or are constantly falling behind on assignments from your boss or professors, consider exercise as a treatment. Our bodies have an incredible array of naturally occurring mechanisms that can do anything from burn fat and increase your heart rate to calming your nerves and increasing your productivity at work; you just need to learn how to tap into them.