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The Secret Benefit of Exercising

Let's face it - things aren't easy right now. Just watching the news brings an overwhelming sense of dread, and staying at home is totally exhausting. For the most part, people have been feeling down more than up, and everyone's trying everything to try to forget about life for a bit. There are many things you could do to make yourself feel better, but there's one activity that a lot of people overlook. Believe it or not, exercising is one of the best things you can do to make yourself feel better!

Everybody knows about the physical benefits of exercise; however, exercising has also been proven to significantly increase your mental health. Exercise has been proven to improve mood, relieve stress, and even act as a sort of "treatment" for mental health problems such as depression. According to a study carried out by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, running for 15 minutes or walking for an hour a day can reduce the risk of major depression by 26 percent! Exercise calms the brain, allows for neural growth, and also releases endorphins, the feel-good chemical. Exercise can also give you more energy, boost your self-esteem, improve your memory and thinking skills, and provide you with better, more refreshing sleep.

It is very understandable to be skeptical about all the science behind exercising and mental health. I mean, how in the world is walking for a bit going to help me?!? Even though the effects will be slightly different for everyone, I can say that exercising frequently has helped me out a lot mentally! Since quarantine started back in March, I have made an effort to run at least once every other day, and it is amazing how much it affects the way I feel. On weeks I cannot run for whatever reason, I end up feeling really down, and there is no way to shake it off except exercising. Running gives me a sense of achievement and accomplishment that not a lot of other things can give me, and it is really fun to challenge myself and go for better times and stuff like that! Even if you're skeptical of the benefits of exercise, go ahead and try it out - it works for me!

Kids from around the school have also experienced positive changes in their mental health from engaging in physical activity. Cat Foster, a junior at GMC, said, "When I'm stressed or upset after school and my thoughts are racing or it's just not a great day, running always clears my head and I feel more alive." Another student at GMC stated, "It really depends on the day. Obviously being in XC, it is a physical and mental sport, and it's a lot harder than most people think. At first, it can definitely negatively impact your mental health, however, throughout the sport, you become stronger and better than even before you started because you have learned how to tell your body that you can do it, you can make it, even if it is screaming that you can't. So I guess I would say that overall, the mental journey has ups and downs, and the "runners high" that you get after a race makes it worth it. Basically, if you haven't heard of it or had it before, a runners high is basically when you have released lots of endorphins and you feel really happy and nothing can ruin your day. It's a really pure and sweet moment and that is part of the reason you become so close with the teammates because you experience the hardest times with each other, and the amazing times." Kate Bradford, a junior, said, "Sophomore year I joined swim team and noticed a huge difference in my mental health. I was happier because I was around a great community but also because I was getting out and moving. When my grandpa passed away which was a major hit to my mental health, I was going to swim every day and it was so refreshing and freeing. It gave my mind time to process, think about things, feel better in general and just get a different perspective. It might not be fun at first but I personally have noticed major change while working out swimming, walking, or running, instead of sitting and eating chips and watching television."

It is clear as day that, for a lot of people, exercising has a positive effect on mental health. Many people across the world depend on exercising for not just their physical health, but their mental health as well, but a lot of people still do not know that it can help in that way. If you're ever feeling low, give exercise a try, and recommend it to your friends if they feel bad as well. Who knows, it might help you or your friends out a lot!