The medical community has known for years that exercising can do a body good. Now a group of researchers at Harvard University has confirmed it’s also great for the mind.
A new study from the Cognition and Emotion Journal explains that physical activity, specifically aerobic exercise, changes the way a person responds to emotionally difficult events. In a sense, it can help people heal.
“You’re going to encounter things periodically that make you feel upset, but maybe if you’ve exercised that day you’ll be able to bounce back easier and it won’t affect you as much,” researcher Emily Bernstein told Global News.
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To conduct the study, Bernstein and her colleagues randomly assigned 80 people to either stretch (considered inactivity) or jog for 30 minutes (considered activity).
They then watched two movie clips: one that was sad (a scene from The Champ) and another that would make them laugh (a clip from When Harry Met Sally).
At the end of everything, participants were asked to answer some questions to determine their emotional state.
The researchers found the jogging group was better able to handle the negative emotions that can accompany difficult events.
“If you’re someone who would exercise, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, you could bounce back from that easier. Exercise kind of gave [participants] that leg up,” said Bernstein.
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The researchers explain exercise may also help stave off longer-term negative emotions that emerge from depression and psychopathy.
“Regular aerobic exercise could help prevent the onset or worsening of depressed mood for individuals with limited emotional ﬂexibility,” the researchers said in the study.
Bernstein added: “What we can take away from this one study is that exercise can be something that you can do for yourself to make you more resilient during the day… It’s like an emotional vitamin.”
READ MORE: How mental illness holds people back from exercise
So how do you ensure you stay active on a daily basis? Bernstein suggests doing three things:
- Set doable goals: Don’t just tell yourself, “I want to exercise regularly.” Instead say, “Tomorrow, I am going to jog around my neighbourhood for 25 minutes, and I’m going to do that right when I get home from work, and at night I will lay out my clothes.” Once you set concrete and actionable goals something is easier to achieve.Find a buddy: If you’re someone who is motivated by others, find a friend to workout with then hold each other accountable. Sometimes it’s easier to exercise when you know someone is going to be waiting for you.Connect things to values: Find reasons why exercise is important to you and think about ways it can help you right now. We know exercise is good for heart health as we age, but that isn’t motivating today. When you know exercise can help you deal with a stressful presentation you have at work, that’s something that can motivate you real-time.