Many people hit the gym or pound the pavement to improve cardiovascular health, build muscle and, of course, look and feel better, but research show it does more than improve our body, exercise can actually improve our brain.From mall walkers to triathletes, regardless of age or fitness level, studies show that making time for exercise gives us some tremendous mental benefits. It’s been proven to help with insomnia, depression, anxiety and many more mental health issues.

According to Dr. Valerie Taylor, chief of psychiatry at Women’s College Hospital, “Exercise can be extraordinarily beneficial both as a way to prevent a mental illness from re-occurring, and as a way to treat a mental illness if you actually have symptoms right now.”  We’ve got the top ten surprising ways that fitness can improve your mental health, relationships and overall happiness.

  • 1

    Reduce Stress

    One of the most common mental benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat can help manage physical and mental stress.

  • 2

    Boost "Happy Chemicals"

    Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can help alleviate symptoms of depression.

  • 3

    Improve Self-Confidence

    On a very basic level, physical fitness can boost self-esteem and can help you develop a more positive outlook on yourself, and the rest of the world.

  • 4

    Enjoy the Great Outdoors

    Exercising outdoors can help increase self-esteem even more. Find an outdoor workout that fits your style, whether it’s rock-climbing, hiking, or going for a walk in the park.

  • 5

    Prevent Cognitive Decline

    As we get older, our brains actually shrink in size which can lead to diseases like Alzheimer's. While exercise can't necessarily cure Alzheimer's, it can help prevent symptoms after the age of 45.

  • 6

    Alleviate Anxiety

    The "happy chemical" that are released during and after exercise can help people with anxiety disorders. Moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise can actually help reduce anxiety sensitivity.

  • 7

    Boost Brain Power

    Research shows that workers who take time for exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their more sedentary peers.

  • 8

    Sharpen Memory

    Regular physical activity boosts memory and ability to learn new things. Exercise helps increase cell production in hippocampus responsible for memory and learning.

  • 9

    Help Control Addiction

    The brain releases dopamine, the “reward chemical” in response to any form of pleasure. However, some people get addicted to this feeling through artificial means like drugs and alcohol. Exercise can help do this naturally. We have all heard of "runner's high."

  • 10

    Increase Relaxation

    For some, a moderate workout can be the equivalent of a sleeping pill. Moving around increases the body's core temperature, and when it drops backs to normal after a few hours, it signals the body that it’s time to sleep.