Exercise and Mental Health
Everyone has ups and downs in their moods. While there is no magic bullet to always be in a great mood, it has been shown that regular exercise certainly can help boost mood and emotional health. These benefits range from helping those who are more seriously depressed to further lifting the moods of those who are generally happy. Therefore, the benefits of exercise on mental health can be had by a wide range of people.
How it works
Exercise has been shown to have various mental health benefits from reducing depression to improving brain function for the elderly. How exactly it works is complex and varies with the individual, but there are some strong theories.
One involves the body’s production of endorphins. Exercise triggers the production of endorphins as a natural pain-reliever in a response to the physical pain that exercise can bring. These endorphins are opiates that are similar chemically to morphine (although the effects are much milder). The effect of these natural chemicals goes beyond pain relief to produce a sense of well-being in people that lasts after the exercise session is over (see Runner’s High With Endorphins for more details on endorhpins).
For reasons not yet fully understood, exercise has also been shown to increase activity in the frontal lobes and hippocampus of the brain. Furthermore, it boosts production of other neurotransmitters and chemicals known to boost mood. Finally, exercises increases the levels of other compounds that help brain cells survive longer.
Outside the brain, exercise burns adrenaline and immune system chemicals that can make depression worse while increasing body temperature. This works to calm the body and improve physical as well as mental health.
Other emotional benefits of exercise
Exercise has many other mental health benefits that do not involve the production of chemicals. One of these is the boost to self confidence that exercise provides. Be it from the feeling of having accomplished something or looking more physically fit, exercise boosts confidence by making people feel better about themselves and their actions.
Exercise also provides a healthy diversion away from problems and issues in everyday life. By providing a time for people to think about something else, it distracts the mind, gives it a chance to unwind and helps people think of more pleasant thoughts.
Although the act of exercising does not always provide a chance to meet and talk with people, it does provide socialization place and topic of discussion for many. Being highly social beings, this socialization can help people’s mental health.
Then there is sleep. People who are physically fit sleep better than those who do not. Good sleep can work wonders to make people feel better, reduce problems in daily life caused by lack of sleep and also increases physical health.
While all the positive effects exercise has on mental health are not clearly understand and scientists are unsure exactly how and why they work, there is no reason why its positive effects cannot be enjoyed now. Remembering these points can help create a positive feedback loop to keep people on their exercise programs.