7 Ways Physical Activity Keeps Us Healthy (& Happy!)
Engaging in regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do to support your health! Most of us understand how exercise benefits our bodies physiologically, but did you know that physical activity is beneficial to your mental and emotional well-being as well?
Need some motivation to start moving your body? Here are 7 ways that staying physically active can help you lead a happier, healthier life.
#1 – Equips You to Handle Stress
If you use exercise to help manage your stress, what you’re doing is actually backed by science. Physical activity creates small doses of managed stress in our bodies, which is actually really healthy for us. In response, our bodies produce chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These chemicals play an integral part in the body’s ability to respond to stress. 
The more that we exercise, the better we can streamline communication between the systems involved in the body’s response to stress. When other stressors occur, our bodies can be better equipped to handle the response, resulting in a more calm and optimistic approach to stress.
#2 – Reduces Symptoms of Depression
Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States.  According to the Mayo Clinic, just 30 minutes of exercise each day can significantly improve symptoms of depression, and even smaller amounts of physical activity can make a difference. 
Exercise can help by releasing endorphins (hormones that activate the body’s opiate receptors and cause an analgesic, or pain-relieving, effect) and offering greater opportunity for social interaction. In fact, a French study in 2014 found that associations between physical activity and social functioning appeared to determine happiness levels in older adults. 
Exercising outside can offer even more benefits, as increasing vitamin D levels has been shown to reduce both anxiety and depression.
#3 – Helps You Sleep Better (and Stay More Alert When You’re Awake!)
You may not have considered that physical activity has a direct effect on sleep, but a study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity says exactly that.  According to the study, sleep is significantly improved in those who get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. The study also found that regular physical activity can help fight fatigue, leaving us less sleepy and more energized during the day.
Sleep is important, and getting better sleep through physical activity can reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, and help the body detox.
#4 – Improves Memory & Brain Function
Physical activity helps improve memory and brain function in several ways. First, both poor sleep and chronic stress can contribute to cognitive impairment. Because physical activity has a positive effect on sleep and stress, it can indirectly improve cognitive memory.
Next, exercise can help memory because of its physiological benefits, such as reducing inflammation and stimulating the release of growth factors.  This positively impacts brain health, and increases the quantity and longevity of brain cells.
Finally, aerobic exercise has been shown to improve function of the hippocampus, the part of your brain involved with learning and memory. 
#5 – Reduces Chronic Pain
There are a number of studies indicating that exercise may provide relief from chronic pain.  Although rest and inactivity have long been recommended for those with chronic pain, new research shows that physical activity is an important part of treatment.
Interestingly, chronic pain also contributes to stress, depression, and poor sleep. Staying active can help address these issues in many ways. Patients often fear that physical exercise may increase pain further, but the studies showed that muscle soreness that sometimes occurs with starting a new exercise subsided as the participants adapted to new activities. 
#6 – Lowers the Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, more than 60% of Americans are obese or overweight. Physical activity helps prevent high blood pressure, obesity, and poor cholesterol levels, all of which contribute to heart disease. 
Exercising also helps boost lung function and circulation, keeping your body conditioned and ready to perform.
#7 – Improved Confidence & Self-Esteem
Physical activity also leads to better self-esteem and body image.  The health benefits listed above leave us feeling less stressed, well-rested, physically fit, and mentally resourceful. This results in more confidence and self-worth.
In fact, a 2010 study at the University of Michigan found that middle school children who were most active scored highest in displays of both leadership and empathy. 
Physical exercise is an important part of your body’s health, and can have a synergistic effect on sleep, stress, depression, inflammation, pain, and more.
The benefits we gain from exercise have a significantly greater impact than the immediate results that we can observe. From emotional health, to brain function, to heart disease, your whole body (and mind!) will benefit. There are varying types and amounts of physical activity recommended for different goals, so be sure to consult with your healthcare provider to find out what type of program is right for you.
-  Why endorphins (and exercise) make you happy
-  World Health Organization Depression Fact Sheet
-  Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms
-  Direct and indirect relationships between physical activity and happiness levels among older adults: a cross-sectional study.
-  Association between objectively-measured physical activity and sleep, NHANES 2005–2006
-  Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills
-  The Effects of Physical Exercise and Cognitive Training on Memory and Neurotrophic Factors
-  Physical activity and exercise for chronic pain in adults: an overview of Cochrane Reviews
-  Exercise and Heart Disease
-  Physical activity and self-esteem: testing direct and indirect relationships associated with psychological and physical mechanisms
-  Research shows link between physical activity and social skills in children
Exercise equips us to handle stress.
Physical activity can help reduce the symptoms of depression.
Regular physical activity can help us sleep better and combat fatigue.
Exercise can improve memory and brain function.
Exercise may provide relief from chronic pain.
Physical exercise can prevent health problems that lead to heart disease.
Physical activity also leads to better self-esteem and body image.