6 Ways Exercise Helps with Boosting Mental Health
Most of us understand the great feeling we have after a good workout, yet not many of us know why. The health benefits of exercise go far beyond weight loss and physical benefits such as lowered blood pressure, decreased risk of diabetes, and increased energy.
Regular physical exercise is also a powerful tool for boosting mental health. According to the Journal of Psychiatric Research, moderate exercise can improve depression symptoms in patients with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD).
From reducing the symptoms of anxiety and stress to sharpening the mind and relieving anxiety, physical exercise has many mental health benefits that go far beyond the typical “beach body” motivation.
The only question is, how is physical exercise responsible for boosting mental health, and how do the results go beyond the physical body?
Thankfully, we’ve created this article to teach you all about the importance of physical exercise for boosting mental health. Keep on reading to learn how moving your body not only helps you to look better but also helps you to feel better!
1. Exercise Lowers Stress Levels
If you have noticed that you feel incredibly happy after a workout, you are right. Regular exercise can positively impact your well-being, down to a chemical level, which is also known as the “runner’s high”.
If you have ever paid attention to how your body feels when you are under a lot of stress, you will notice that it is the opposite. You feel tension, stomach problems, muscle cramps, heartburn, etc.
The difference is because when you exercise, you are stimulating parts of your brain that otherwise would not be stimulated when you are depressed. You are relieving the tension, rather than adding to it.
During and after the exercise, your brain releases specific chemicals called serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for your well-being and feeling good. Your brain also releases endorphins, which are a type of neurotransmitter that helps your body and your brain to cope with pain and stress.
The release of these chemicals also helps to control your appetite, improve your sleep, and helps you to relax, all of which are usually suppressed during high levels of stress.
Physical exercise also helps your body to manage the “fight or flight” stress responses, including adrenaline and norepinephrine. Your body needs to know how to manage these stress responses so that you are not overwhelmed when it pops up from non-exercise related stress. Over time, this helps to prevent brain deterioration, which is similar to the effects of the supplement CoQ10.
2. Exercise Reduces Anxiety
According to research, anxiety affects over 40 million adults in the US, and if this anxiety is not treated, it can lead to physiological conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and other health conditions.
Similarly to depression, physical exercise also helps to relieve the symptoms of anxiety.
Most researchers contribute this to the focus of being present while exercising. While you are moving, you are more mindful of your surroundings, your body, and your movement, rather than what you were worrying about.
This could be whether you are riding a bicycle, walking outside in the fresh air, laughing with your friends at the gym, or even a dance class.
Anxiety causes our bodies to tense up, which then stimulates the body’s fight or flight response. Exercise helps to combat this tension by helping the body to relax.
Anxiety stimulates the amygdala, which is the area of the brain responsible for perceiving threats and keeping us alive. This is otherwise known as the reptilian brain. While you are exercising, you are stimulating the frontal regions of the brain, which helps to control the amygdala’s response to the anxiety.
Once the heart rate reaches a certain point, it can shift your brain chemistry’s response to anxiety by producing more anti-anxiety neurochemicals. This includes the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), endocannabinoids, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
3. Exercise Helps You to Focus Better
If you feel that you cannot seem to focus or that you have an overwhelming brain fog that won’t lift, exercise may help with that too.
According to a recent study, moderate aerobic exercise helps to increase the size of the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that is responsible for memory, learning and focusing.
When compared to other types of movement such as balancing work, or light resistance training, it was more of the aerobic type of exercise that had the best results.
4. Exercise Helps Reduce Symptoms of ADHD
In addition to helping you focus, exercise also helps to lessen the symptoms of ADHD in both children and adults. Remember those feel-good chemicals dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin? They also help with improving concentration, confidence, mood-boosting, memory, and motivation.
This is very similar to how ADHD medications such as Adderal and Ritalin work, by creating extra boosts of these specific brain chemicals.
5. Exercise Reduces Depression
In a new study by the Harvard T.H. Chan school of public health, they discovered that regular physical exercise was as effective for reducing depression as most anti-depressants.
They discovered that walking for an hour per day, or running for as little as 15 minutes can reduce the signs of depression by up to 26%, and by continuing on the exercise regime, patients were less likely to relapse back into depression.
Aside from the brain chemicals and endorphins, exercise also helps to boost your most indirectly by boosting your confidence. Since we live in a very image-driven society, our instinctive drive to fit in forces us to pay more attention to our image.
This means that if you are overweight, you are more prone to suffer from low-self esteem and low self-confidence. By participating in regular activity, you are destined to lose those extra unwanted pounds and gain a better sense of self-love for your body, which boosts those endorphins and improves your mood.
Exercising with friends also has mental health benefits. Since we are social creatures, we desire connection which causes our brain to release oxytocin, also known as “the love chemical”.
So getting outside and moving your body not only boosts dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, but it can also boost oxytocin when you add some friends into your exercise program!
6. Exercise Helps Reduce Symptoms of Trauma and PTSD
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects every 7 or 8 out of every 100 people. This means that every year, there are over eight million adults that experience the debilitating symptoms of PTSD.
Thankfully, exercise can help with the symptoms of PTSD as well. Many studies have discovered that mindfulness can help with reducing the symptoms of PTSD, and besides meditation, you cannot get more mindful than exercise.
Experts say that by focusing on the feelings and sensations of our body when we exercise, we can easily calm down and combat the effects that PTSD has on our nervous system.
PTSD symptoms worsen in people when they allow their minds to wander into the event that brought them trauma. While this certainly has its place for processing trauma, our minds tend to focus more on the physicality of the body during physical movement.
The exercise that involved the entire body tends to have the best effects, including:
- Weight training
One incredible study done by the Surfwell Foundation has discovered that the combination of exercise, cold water therapy, and being outdoors had incredible benefits for emergency workers that suffered from PTSD.
Other forms of outdoor exercise that can also help are:
- White water rafting
- Rock climbing
- Mountain biking
- Cross country skiing
Being outside also helps to connect you to the negative ions of the planet, which are known to improve your mood, and calm the nervous system.
Tips For Boosting Mental Health With Exercise
Now that you know the incredible mental health benefits of exercise, you are probably wondering how to get started!
The most important factor in starting any exercise regime is to find an activity that you will enjoy. This means that you will stick to the exercise without dropping out before the mental health benefits begin.
This could start as a walking group with a few friends, hiking in the nearby woods, or walking along the beach. You could also partake in some aerobics classes, or try a spin class in your neighborhood gym.
Make sure you have the right fitness supplementation to support both your brain and your body during your new exercise plan. This will help reduce muscle soreness, increase your energy, and help you to sleep better.
Learn More About Exercise and Mental Health
Boosting mental health is not only essential for a happier life, but it will also help prevent your brain from deteriorating prematurely.
To learn more about how you can support your brain health, check out our high-quality supplementation that supports brain health, fitness, weight loss, herbal supplements, and gut health.