The Power of Exercise on Mental Health
We all know that exercise is good for the body, but did you know it’s a powerful medicine used to reduce mental health challenges? Exercise has been known to boost energy, improve mood, promote better sleep and reduce anxiety and depression; but what’s the science behind it? Here are the top effects exercise has on mental health and the research to back it up.
Exercise has been thought to be just as effective as antidepressants when it comes to its impact on your mood. Various studies have been done to better understand the link between the two. People who exercise regularly have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who don't. In fact, physically active individuals who matched the non physically active group for several socio demographic characteristics had 43.2% fewer days of poor mental health in the past month, compared to individuals who did not exercise. Not only can an exercise regimen help treat depression, but it can also prevent relapses as well. Exercise also increases your serotonin levels. Serotonin is the chemical your body produces that helps your brain regulate mood, sleep and appetite. The more serotonin you have, the more balanced your mood, appetite and sleep patterns are. When your sleep patterns are out of whack and your appetite is insatiable, causing you to have an unhealthy diet, you’re more likely to have a low mood. A good workout can also increase endorphins which are natural mood lifters. So if you are feeling groggy, get moving. You may need a boost of serotonin and get those endorphins pumping to regulate your mood for the day.
Ironically, exerting energy by way of a good workout actually boosts your energy. When you do any kind of physical exertion, it increases your need for oxygen. That oxygen travels straight to your brain and blood stream which is what helps you feel more awake and alert. The more consistent you are in your exercise routine, the more it will dramatically reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels in the long run; no pun intended.
Reduces the Risk of Chronic Disease
Regular exercise improves overall heart health and reduces the risk of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Even if you suffer from high blood pressure and glucose levels, physical activity lowers your risk of dying from the disease and keeps it from progressing. For those suffering with asthma, a good workout can help control the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. Regular exercise is known for increasing your lung capacity and strengthening your heart and lungs as well. If you’re experiencing chronic back pain, exercise can ironically help with that as well. Low impact aerobic activities can strengthen your back and improve muscle function. People who had cancer can also benefit from working out as it improves overall quality of life. Exercise has been linked to lowering the risk of dying from breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.
Improves Self-esteem and Cognitive Function
When you aren’t happy with the way you look, you develop body image issues and low self-esteem. Exercising helps to build self-esteem by improving the condition of your body. Even if you don’t lose a lot of weight while exercising, you are likely to strengthen and tone your body. Seeing these kinds of results can make you feel better about the way you look and enhance your self-confidence. As the saying goes, when you look good, you feel good. Many evidences also show that physical exercise affects brain plasticity, influencing cognition and well-being. Clinical studies have indicated that exercise induces structural and functional changes in the brain. This is what determines biological and psychological benefits like disrupting neurodegeneration, reducing the risk of dementia and memory loss and increasing overall self satisfaction. Other forms of exercise like yoga and tai chi are known to decrease tension, anxiety, anger and lower stress hormones like cortisol.
If you’ve been seeking alternative ways to improve your mental health, exercise is a good start. Not only is it beneficial for your body, but your mind. Exercise should be considered as part of your normal routine to improve your overall quality of life.
Talk to your primary care doctor about your symptoms; or seek help directly from a mental health professional. If you're reluctant to see a mental health professional, reach out to someone else who may be able to help guide you to treatment, whether it's a friend or loved one, a teacher, a faith leader, or someone else you trust.