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6 Ways Exercising Helps Your Mental Health

Diligent gym habits aren't just about physical health. Research shows exercise can improve your mental health, too.

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Woman taking a walk during work
Jeff Olson
Ian Maddox
Sara Forrest
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Exercise Cranks Up Creativity

Thinking outside the box in the workplace may be as easy as going outside your cubicle. A recent Dutch study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience suggests that people who exercise regularly are also better at creative thinking. So if you've been stuck on a task for a while, taking a stroll during your lunch break may be just the thing to get you past the block.

11 Creative Lunches to Pack

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Exercise Increases Self-Esteem

Talk about a runner's high! A report in the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests that engaging in physical activities (particularly during early teen years of adolescence) has a positive correlation with reported self-esteem years down the line. So start early and reap the rewards for years to come!

Want an added psychosocial boost? Try exercising outdoors -- according to one a past study in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, working out in outdoor environments lifts self esteem more than if you were hoofing it on the elliptical indoors.

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Exercise Lessens Anxiety

While exercise doesn't quite have pharmaceutical-grade effects on extreme cases of anxiety, research in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine suggests that physical activity is effective in relieving symptoms in mild cases. Whether it's hitting the free weights or getting your om on, releasing tension in your muscles can trail back all the way to your head.

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Exercise Improves Memory

Having trouble remembering names or appointments? Time to lace up the sneakers. In a study published in Physiology and Behavior, subjects performed significantly better in a memory task after strenuous exercise than those who rested. Staying active is also a huge help for age-related mind decay. Research published in Neurology indicates that exercise helps preserve cognitive function as you get older. So while picking up the crossword or a new language definitely helps in memory decline, you may also want to pick up a pair of dumbbells while you're at it.

Stay Sharp with Free Brain Games

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Exercise Curbs Cravings and Addiction

We all know that runner's high is caused by the release of dopamine into the body -- and this is a good thing, especially when we have other not-so-healthy vices that tap into the pleasure chemical, such as alcohol, drugs, sex or food. According to research in Addiction, habitual cigarette smokers show that short amounts of physical activity momentarily broke their cravings. If you're trying to break a bad habit, get out and move a little until the moment has passed.

Resist Junk Food Cravings

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Exercise Pumps Up Productivity

Managers rejoice! Cubicle workers who were also regular exercises reported in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine feeling more productive and energized during their workdays compared to their chair-bound colleagues. So the next time your boss gives you grief about your midday yoga session, just let her know it's all part of the plan to help you meet deadlines.

Originally published on, May 2014.

The Ultimate Lunch-Hour Workout

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