How Exercise Can Improve Your Mental Health
Dieting is a billion dollar a year industry, but the truth of the matter is that without regular exercise any sort of eating plan you could attempt will fall short. It’s difficult to cut calories enough to make a real difference in your weight without adding in a workout regimen. And truth be told, you won’t get the visual results you want without exercise. Muscle mass actually weighs more than fat, so with regular exercise you might be a few pounds heavier, but you’ll love what you see in the mirror a whole lot more. It’s clear that exercise has loads of physical benefits, but have you ever stopped to consider the mental benefits? Decades of research have found that exercise affects the brain in a number of positive ways. Here are a few thoughts on how exercise can improve your mental health.
It’s common knowledge that any amount of moderate physical activity increases the production of endorphins in the brain. These endorphins work in the same way as opiate drugs, giving you that euphoric “runner’s high”, that is one of the best natural side effects of exercise. While the endorphin burst will certainly make you feel physical better, it will give you a huge mental and emotional burst as well. You can expect a positive feeling that directly correlates to the amount of exercise you take on.
Scientists have also found a correlation between exercise and an increase in activity within the hippocampus and the frontal lobes of the brain. They haven’t been able to nail down exactly why this happens, but after years of studying animals it is clear that this ties in with an increase in the levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. That chemical activity has been shown to create a positive mood. Since most antidepressants work to boost the levels of those chemicals, exercise could be seen as a natural mood enhancer, and a possible replacement for antidepressant medications.
That’s not the end of the mood-enhancing effects of exercise. Further research has found that it improves the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This is another mood enhancer, but there’s a much greater reaction that BDNF creates. Basically, it seems to give added longevity to brain cells. This matches up with research that shows elderly test subjects who commit to a regular exercise regimen of about thirty minutes a day can delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, two of the biggest aging maladies in modern society.
Outside of any of these physical reactions that improve your mood and brain function, there’s also the emotional high you get from setting a goal and sticking to it. Depression often brings a loss of motivation and a lack of a sense of self-worth. It’s a downward spiral that’s tough to pull out of, regardless of what your naturopath prescribes to address the problem. But an exercise routine brings so many positive results that you cannot help but appreciate your efforts. The more you do the better you feel and look, and that impact is entirely your own creation. That may be enough to prove to those suffering from depression that life is worth living, and you are not as far gone as you once thought.