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story.lead_photo.caption Isaac Williams

Is your gym membership worth it?

When most people think of the benefits of exercise, they think of the physical benefits — muscular strength and cardiovascular health. However, studies show that regardless of age or fitness level, making exercise a part of your life provides some serious mental benefits. Sophia Breene at the Huffington Post said working out can benefit mental health, relationships, and lead to a healthier and happier life overall.

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.

Boost happy chemicals

Exercise releases endorphins which can create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, doctors recommend people suffering from depression or anxiety, or those who are just feeling blue, get plenty of exercise.

Prevent cognitive decline

Exercise and a healthy diet can help shore up the brain against cognitive decline. Working out boosts chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.

Boost brainpower

Various studies on mice and men have shown cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance. Studies suggest a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein, known as BDNF, in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking and learning.

Help control addiction

The brain releases dopamine, the "reward chemical" in response to any form of pleasure, be that exercise, drugs, alcohol or food. Unfortunately, some people become addicted to dopamine and dependent on the substances that produce it, like drugs or alcohol.

On the bright side, exercise can help in addiction recovery. Short exercise sessions also can effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts, making them de-prioritize cravings (at least in the short term).

Get more done

Feeling uninspired at work? The solution might just be a short walk or jog away. Research shows workers who take time for exercise on a regular basis are more productive and have more energy than their more sedentary peers.

So is your gym membership worth it?

I think so!

Isaac Williams is the director of membership and risk management for the Jefferson City Area YMCA, where he has worked for 11 years.

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