It should come as no surprise to you (or really anyone, for that matter) that regular exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. Getting the blood flowing optimizes heart function, helps stave off serious illnesses, improves posture (woohoo!), & helps with weight management. What is not so widespread is the effect of regular exercise on mental health. Sure, we have heard that getting our bodies moving makes us healthier and, thereby, happier. But did you know that there is actually scientific reasoning for the positive change in mood many experience after exercising? Here are some of the amazing things that happen when we engage in regular physical activity:
Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin.
When you exercise, neurotransmitters in your brain (ex. endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) are released. These chemical messengers are responsible for relieving pain, stress, and overall feelings of negativity. Studies have also shown that regular exercise can increase serotonin levels in the brain. This boost leads to a better mood and overall sense of well-being. (And, as an added bonus, it can also positively affect your appetite.
Exercise improves sleep.
People who exercise usually experience longer, deeper, calmer sleep. Expending extra energy, anxiety, and stress allows them to wake up feeling more rejuvenated and ready to take on the day. But it’s more that. The boost of serotonin that we get when we exercise also has a positive impact on our sleep schedules. Well-rested bodies and minds are much better equipped to handle negativity than those bodies and minds continually running on a few hours of sleep.
Exercise increases your body and mind’s ability to deal with the stress inducing moments life throws your way.
When you engage in a reasonable amount of physical activity, you put your body through a healthy amount of stress within a controlled environment. This allows your body and mind to learn that challenging doesn’t always mean bad. In addition, studies have shown that a moderate amount of strenuous physical exercise actually stimulates the birth of new neurons in that brain, especially in areas responsible for memory! This improved neuroplasticity increases resilience and your brain’s ability to handle the negative feelings that often lead to anxiety and depression.
Exercise gives your brain a break, builds confidence, and gives you an opportunity for increased social connection!
When you’re focused on finishing that mile or set of squats, it can be pretty difficult to focus on what’s going on at the office or at home. Exercise gives your brain an opportunity to practice mindfulness and be present in the moment. It’s especially beneficial considering, as you build strength, agility, and flexibility, you will likely also find your feelings of competency and confidence increasing. Plus, a trip to a group class or public gym gives you more opportunity to connect with your peers. It’s a win, win, win.
If you are already experiencing anxiety and depression or are currently completely sedentary, the thought of jumping into a workout program may sound pretty overwhelming. But don’t be discouraged. Studies suggest that even 15 minutes of daily exercise could have noticeable effects. As a tip, start with just 5-10 minutes of regular exercise a day. Once you become comfortable with that practice, add on 5 minutes each week until you reach a length that best suits the needs of your mind and body.
Keep in mind, exercise isn’t just hitting the weights and treadmill. Dancing, pilates, running around outside with your kids, going for a long walk with your dog, all these things count as exercise! Find something you enjoy doing and make that your practice.
We know getting started isn’t easy, but you deserve to feel happy and awesome. You deserve to feel good in your own body and mind. Make yourself a priority and let the good feelings flow. Your future self will thank you.
NOTE: While exercise is certainly a good start to get you on the path to feeling great, we know it isn’t a cure all. Proper mental health is about more than just exercising. It may include a change in diet, relationships, stress management practices, or even the addition of therapeutic methods into your routine.
If you believe you or a loved one are dealing with depression, anxiety, or another mental illness, please seek help from a trained medical professional. They will give you be able to give you the best tools for you and get you on the path to feeling your absolute best.
Mark McDonaldJune 13, 2018
As a clinical psychiatrist, I emphasize the necessity of sleep, diet, and exercise for the maintenance of good mental health to every patient. Like a three-legged stool, if one element is lacking, you fall over.