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Why exercise is important for your brain

Well-being Week in Law: Physical

by Raven Ballard, PLPC

When thinking about our health, it’s easy to focus on our physical health and our mental health as independent functions. A glance at recent healthcare trends, though, will reveal that our society has begun shifting its perspective on how we view our health and overall well-being. Our understanding of health is shifting towards an integrated concept, or the idea that our physical health, mental health, and social health are all intertwined and do not work independently of each other (Naylor, et al, 2016). For example, have you ever tried hitting the gym but weren’t in the right headspace? Or maybe you’ve had an experience that was stressful and after going for a walk or even just doing some stretches, you begin to feel your stress decrease. These are just a few examples of how our physical health can also impact our mental health.

Further research provided by the Annual Review of Medicine has insinuated that the body of evidence revealing a direct link between physical activity and mental health is growing at numerous rates. In a study of 1.2 million U.S. adults, individuals who reported regular exercise also reported better mental health functioning compared to those surveyed who did not exercise regularly (Smith & Merwin, 2021). Does this mean that physical activity is the magical cure-all for mental health? Of course not. But increased physical activity has been widely shown to decrease the likelihood of depressive symptoms as well as reduce the frequency of anxiety disorder symptoms (Smith & Merwin, 2021). Here are some ideas on how to use your body to help your mind:

  • Ask coworkers if they’d like to join you for a walk during your lunch or scheduled break.
  • Set your timer for five minutes and do some stretching.
  • Try taking the stairs instead of the elevator when given the option.
  • Look up a 15-minute exercise video on YouTube. This could be cardio, yoga, or whatever feels like a good pace for you.
  • Try going on an Awe Walk.

Our health is important because when we feel good both in our bodies and our minds, we’re able to even better serve our clients, our communities, and ourselves.

Brain break: Take a timeout during or after work to hit a local trail, city sidewalk, or even your backyard. Walk around, taking in the surrounding sounds, sights, and smells. Allow your focus to shift to these natural wonders. 

If you need to discuss how you could improve your overall wellness, the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program is here to help! Please consult the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program at 1-800-688-7859 for free, confidential counseling. 

Greater Good in Action. (2023). Awe walk. https://ggia.berkeley.edu/index.php/practice/awe_walk

Naylor, C., Das P., Ross, S., Honeyman, M., Thompson, J., & Gilburt, H. (2016). Bringing together physical and mental health: A new frontier for integrated care. The King’s Fund. https://www.basw.co.uk/system/files/resources/basw_101420-2_0.pdf

Smith, P. J., & Merwin, R. M. (2021). The role of exercise in management of mental health disorders: An integrative review. Annual Review of Medicine. https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-med-060619-022943