Exercise and Mental Health: What’s the Relation?

by Matt Weik

People are becoming more and more aware of the benefits of exercising, and for a good reason. Exercise isn’t only good for how you look, but it’s also shown to improve mental health and overall well-being. Most of the time, we consider exercise more for the body, and occasionally it being for the mind. But what about when this type of activity is used to improve upon something like mental health?

This offers a significant number of opportunities for people who are struggling with stress, anxiety, and other mental issues. Some people have found that exercising alone can have immediate benefits on their mood, but there are a lot of instances where a person enjoys these effects in a more long-term sense.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. If you are suffering from an illness, disease, or simply haven’t been feeling like yourself, speak to a medically trained professional and get their expert opinion and diagnosis.

Why Does Working Out Alleviate Your Mood?

It’s well-known that exercise is good for your health. It can help you live longer and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Now, scientists are learning the relation between exercise and mental health.

For decades, scientists have been trying to understand why exercise makes us feel better. One theory holds that because physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, it brings more oxygen and nutrients to cells. This helps the brain function better and may help repair cells damaged by stress.

Another theory focuses on the role of exercise in reducing levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which are produced by the adrenal glands during times of stress and anxiety. Scientists have discovered that over time, people who regularly exercise show fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders than those who don’t exercise at all.

Other research suggests that as little as 10 minutes of daily activity can help boost your mood and decrease feelings of depression or anxiety. And it doesn’t matter what you do — taking a brisk walk, riding a bike to work, or doing yard work all count toward your daily total.

Exercise also has other benefits for the mind as it can relieve symptoms of stress and lead to better sleep patterns (which is also vital for mental health).

Exercise and Depression: What’s the Relation?

Regular exercise can boost self-confidence, it can relax you, and can decrease symptoms linked with mild anxiety and depression. Exercise can also enhance your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression, and anxiety. All these exercise effects can ease your depression and potentially help you feel better.

Anxiety and depression are frequently seen together in people with chronic illnesses. Getting regular physical activity is an essential part of reducing your risk for both of these mental illnesses.

Physical activity has been shown to reduce inflammation which plays a role in the development of many chronic diseases. Regular physical activity also promotes brain health and helps prevent cognitive decline, which may reduce the risk of developing depression or Alzheimer’s disease as we age.

Can You Control Anxiety by Exercising?

Exercise is considered to be a natural and useful anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, improves physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through endorphins release. Anything that can get you moving will help, but you will benefit better if you pay attention instead of zoning out.

Try to spot the sensation of your feet when they hit the ground. For example, the rhythm of your breathing or the sense of the wind on your skin.

By adding these mindfulness elements, focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you will not only help boost your physical condition faster, but you can also interrupt the flow of constant worries and negative thoughts potentially running through your head.

Exercise and Stress Levels

When we are under stress, our body releases stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Regular aerobic exercise appears to reduce levels of these hormones in your blood.

In some cases, regular exercise may even alter how your brain responds to stress. For example, it may reduce activity in your amygdala (a part of the brain that processes fear and other emotions) and increase activity in your prefrontal cortex (a region that regulates complex thinking and decision making).

How to Get Started and Become More Active Every Day?

For starters, try to find a fun activity — something you enjoy rather than engage in just because you know it’s “good for you.” Working out and exercising regularly is more likely to stick and become a healthy habit if you enjoy it. That’s why so many people love team sports and other activities where they get to be around other people.

You can also break a sweat in the great outdoors — think along the lines of cycling, hiking, or even gardening can help you get in some exercise without lumping it in the “exercise” category.

In the winter months, it’s easy to find indoor options such as walking at the mall or skating at a rink. And don’t forget about your own home. You can do exercises with no equipment at all by using your own body weight or use simple items you’d find around your house, like a can of soup or gallon jugs that can be used as weights. The key is to move more and try to be as active as possible.

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