The benefits of physical exercise reach far beyond the physical body. Exercise and mental health have been shown to have a mutually beneficial relationship – the more you exercise, the better your mental health is, and the better your mental health is, the more you will feel empowered to exercise.
Although it may not seem like it, physical exercise plays a large role in our mental health. As little as 10 to 15 minutes of physical exercise has been found to improve mental health, by way of relieving symptoms of mental health disorders, boosting our moods and energy levels and improving brain function.
So, how exactly does exercise have mental health benefits?
It increases production of endorphins
You may have friends who talk about the “high” they get from going on long runs, or how yoga makes them feel more clear-headed and content. This is no coincidence. Increased happiness has been found in individuals who regularly exercise because exercise produces endorphins, otherwise known as the happiness chemical.
It promotes neurogenesis
Exercise can promote the growth of new neurons, or information messengers, in the brain. This neurogenesis, especially in the hippocampus, is thought to provide the resources needed to calm the brain during periods of anxiety.
Neurogenesis can promote neuroplasticity, which can improve memory and potentially reduce brain shrinkage. This may mean that exercise can be associated with a decreased risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
It can alleviate stress
Exercise can help you feel like you are physically releasing stress from your body and lifting that weight off of your shoulders. It does so by decreasing the presence and production of cortisol, known as the stress hormone, which decreases feelings of stress.
Exercise can also serve as a distraction during tough or stressful times. The bonus of this is that you are keeping yourself healthy, clearing your mind and decreasing your stress levels while getting in some exercise.
It can alleviate symptoms of other mental health disorders
Exercise, ranging from light to intense, may be nearly as effective as other forms of treatment in reducing symptoms of depression. Exercising can feel like an impossible task when you are struggling with your mental health, but you may find that exercise can help you feel better once you get over that initial hurdle.
Exercise has also been shown to improve symptoms of ADHD, because exercise floods the brain with dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin – key neurotransmitters, lacking in those who have ADHD, that are responsible for pleasure, reward, attention and focus.
It offers something for everyone
Finding a form of exercise that you truly enjoy can turn into you exploring a new favorite hobby. You will reframe exercise from something necessary that you hate doing to one of your favorite activities that you look forward to every day. Experiment with different types of exercise until you find one that you like and will stick with. Try these sports and activities to get you started: running, walking, swimming, yoga, weightlifting, team sports, dance, Pilates, CrossFit, rowing, stationary bikes, jump rope, rock climbing, hiking, boxing, tai chi, biking and kayaking.
It can help you form new relationships
Exercise classes, running clubs and hiking groups can build your social support system and help you form new bonds over shared interests. If you are shy when it comes to meeting new people, or you find it difficult to get out and try new things on days you are struggling with your mental health, exercise can help you break through those barriers.
It improves brain function
Engaging in stimulating activities like exercise may strengthen the brain’s cognition and cognitive reserve, which protects the brain from negative brain changes and neurodegeneration. Exercise also increases the heart rate, which in turn gets the blood flowing and supplies the brain with more oxygen. Neurogenesis has been found in areas of the brain with more blood vessels as a result of exercise.
On the simplest level, it is good for you
Silvermist Recovery believes that exercise is an integral component of holistic treatment. Reach out today at 724-268-4858 to learn more about how exercise can improve your mental health.