1Boost Your Brainpower Exercise can make you stronger, better, faster – and, believe it or not, smarter. A 2011 Trinity College Dublin study found that exercise could increase levels of BDNF, a brain-derived protein that is believed to play a big role in quick thinking and decision making. Even short bouts of intense exercise led to an improvement in memory. Other studies have shown that running sprints increase vocabulary retention among healthy adults.
2Reduce Anxiety Doing something proactive and positive can be a powerful coping strategy. Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Public Health have discovered that exercise can be a healthy way to cope. Instead of dwelling on the worries and concerns in your mind, it forces you to engage with your body, distracting you and breaking the cycle of negative thinking. Increasing your body temperature through stretching and sweating can also help calm the mind.
3Bring on the Happy Chemicals Exercise releases endorphins, those happy, mood-boosting chemicals. Any form of movement – whether it's an intense workout or a gentle jog – has been proven to make you happier. Build on this by making a workout playlist of feel-good songs that you love, which has also been shown to improve your mood. Better still, a growing body of research is showing that involvement in structured exercise can alleviate symptoms of clinical depression. A 2007 study by scientists at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina even suggested that exercise could be just as effective as antidepressants.
4De-stress Thanks to technology, our minds are constantly racing, and often stressing. Gentle, restorative exercise like yoga brings near-instant stress relief. Focusing on your breath and posture slows your pulse, calms the mind and helps you move on. Even taking a few minutes at the end of your workout to gently breathe in and out through your nostrils with your mouth closed can help you walk out of the gym a calmer, saner, happier person.
5 Increase your Self-esteem There's nothing like the sense of accomplishment that comes with hitting a target or pushing yourself that bit further. It comes as no surprise that people who are unemployed are encouraged to exercise – it gives you a sense of focus, creates achievable goals, reduces frustration and boosts your confidence. No matter your gender, age or size, exercise has been shown to improve feelings of self-worth and confidence. Being aware of your body's strengths and abilities, instead of focusing on what you perceive it lacks, is a powerful confidence-building tool.
6Sharpen your Memory Every time you exercise, it's not just your body that benefits; your brain gets fitter too. A 2011 study from the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh found that working out could increase the size of your brain's hippocampus region, leading to improved memory and decreasing chances of dementia. Regularly exercising boosts your brain's ability to fight the declines associated with things like Alzheimer's disease, and has even been shown to improve the cognitive functions of older people who had been demonstrating memory loss.
7Help Control Addiction Research shows that even short exercise sessions successfully distract people addicted to drugs and alcohol, causing them to temporarily de-prioritise their cravings. Even if you've just been overindulging in food, drink or late nights, working out can help increase your self-control and motivate you to stay healthy as your body naturally craves nourishing, clean foods after energetic gym sessions or runs. Additionally, drug and alcohol abuse can wreak havoc on your body's natural circadian rhythms, which is why many alcoholics find it difficult to sleep without drinking. Regular exercise can not only help re-set your body clock, but will tire your body out and prep it for a great night's sleep.
8Stop the Brain Drain Stuck in a work rut and eating lunch at your desk again? Consider fitting in a lunchtime workout. Studies show that midday exercising can help increase your productivity, energy and creativity. Even doing something low-intensity like walking or yoga can reduce your chances of hitting the dreaded brain-drain that is the 3pm slump. A 2011 study by psychologists at Stockholm University showed that workers who made the time to exercise regularly were more productive and had more energy than those who didn't.
9Stay Positive "Green exercise" – that is, anything done outside – can be a serious mood booster. Hiking, cycling, running or even walking through nature shifts your focus on to the beauty of the outdoors as you exercise. This can help put personal problems into perspective, leaving you calmer, happier and ready to tackle them. Letting your mind wander freely while walking through nature can also be a brilliant way to allow it to work on problems subconsciously, increasing your problem-solving abilities.
10Social Support PE may not have been most people's favourite subject in school, but getting involved in a team can make you healthier, happier and reduce chances of depression. A 2012 study in the journal Clinical Psychological Science showed that teenagers who were regularly involved in organised sports were the least likely to have mental health problems. As well as helping boost their self-esteem by keeping their bodies fit and healthy, the social interaction and moral support of being part of a team helped protect their mental health.