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Exercise and Mental Health

Almost everyone today knows that doing regular exercise has a wide range of health benefits for the body, including strengthening the muscles, bones, heart, and lungs as well as aiding in the prevention of many ailments. Some other common benefits of exercise also include lower blood pressure, increased energy, weight control and reduced risk of diabetes. But, one very important benefit of physical exercise that is often overlooked, is its effect on our mental health.

Physical exercise and mental health are two sides of the same coin. An increasing amount of studies in recent years have shown that regular physical activity can have major positive effects on mental health. In this blog post, we'll look at some of the advantages of exercise as well as the connection between physical activity and mental health.

Let us first start by looking at the science underlying this link.


How Does Exercise Affect Our Brain and Eventually Mental Health?


While going on a run, going to the gym, or engaging in any other physical exercise may appear rather simple on the surface, a complicated chemical cascade occurs inside your body each time. This chemical chain reaction gives your brain several advantages as per a comprehensive review. Many crucial chemical messengers called neurotransmitters are released throughout your neural system once you start exercising, depending on the intensity.

While going on a run, going to the gym, or engaging in any other physical exercise may appear rather simple on the surface, a complicated chemical cascade occurs inside your body each time. This chemical chain reaction gives your brain several advantages as per a comprehensive review. Many crucial chemical messengers called neurotransmitters are released throughout your neural system once you start exercising, depending on the intensity. Some of the most common neurotransmitters that undergo changes during exercise are:-

  • Higher production of Endorphins:

Feel-good hormones or endorphins are known to have mood-boosting effects. They block pain signals from our brains to help reduce stress levels.

  • Increased Serotonin:

Exercise also helps to increase our levels of serotonin, which is responsible for our mood regulation. A higher amount of serotonin leads to a better mood.

  • Reduced Cortisol:

Increased cortisol results in higher stress levels. Exercising helps reduce the levels of cortisol, making us feel calmer.

  • Increased level of Dopamine:

Dopamine controls many bodily functions, including the processing of pain, heart rate, sleep cycles, mood, motivation, and working memory. Amongst other things, exercising increases levels of dopamine, which is linked to feelings of happiness and well-being.


So, if you are looking for a way to reduce stress and improve your mood, you should maybe consider getting up and going for a walk, run or swim!


What Are The Benefits Of Regular Physical Exercise On Mental Health?

Now that we have understood the underlying science & connection between physical exercise and it’s effect on our brain, let us look at some of the most important benefits that an individual can derive from regular physical exercise.


1. Reducing symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

There are several advantages of exercise for people who are experiencing symptoms of depression. Researches have revealed that physical activity might be just as beneficial as medication in lowering the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exercise can assist to lessen the symptoms of depression in a number of ways, including increased endorphin production, decreased cortisol levels, boosted self-esteem, social connection, and a much-needed diversion. Regular physical activity can help with depression, so adding it to your daily routine may be beneficial to your overall treatment strategy.


2. Enhancing cognitive function

Exercise has been shown to have several positive effects on cognitive function, including improved memory, concentration, processing speed and increased executive functioning. The benefits of exercise on memory appear to be mediated by increased blood flow to the brain and the creation of new brain cells. In addition to its benefits on memory, exercise also appears to boost brain volume. A recent study found that regular aerobic exercise was associated with increased grey matter volume in the hippocampus, a region of the brain important for memory and learning. Also, it has been demonstrated that exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, a region of the brain crucial for memory and learning.


3. Improve and promotes better sleep

Exercise can aid in improved sleep promotion by lowering stress levels and encouraging relaxation. Regular exercise can also aid in regulating our sleep-wake cycle, which can improve our ability to sleep at night, making it more restful and deep. Additionally, exercise can help to reduce the symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disorders, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.


4. Improving self-esteem

Regular physical activity can aid in the improvement of self-esteem. Exercise can boost our confidence in our body and its abilities. Achieving fitness goals can also provide us with a sense of accomplishment, which can boost our self-confidence and self-esteem. Exercising regularly helps better our body image, and reduces our stress levels as discussed earlier which in turn increases our self-esteem and keeps us happier.


5. Reducing and effectively tackling day-to-day stress

Physical exercise can help to reduce day-to-day stress by lowering cortisol levels in the body. We can feel more relaxed and less stressed when we exercise because it allows us to release our bodily tension and clear our minds. In simple words, those who exercise regularly may become less affected by the stress they face and they may also develop some very effective mechanisms.


6. Physical activity can be a good source of social support

The benefits of social support are well-documented, and many physical activities can also be considered social activities. So, whether you join an exercise class, gym or play football in your society, interacting with others can provide you with a double dose of motivation and satisfaction at the same time.


In conclusion, there are numerous mental health benefits associated with regular physical exercise. Regular physical exercise may be a good place to start if you want to improve your mental health.

Having said this, starting and sticking with a regular physical activity or an exercise routine can be a challenge. Hence, if you are stuck and cannot start with a regular exercise routine, consider seeking out therapy to begin to understand the possible cognitive or emotional hindrances and eventually overcome them. A qualified professional can guide you to find solutions for these hindrances and help you in kickstarting this journey of mental well-being through regular physical exercise. We, at MentAmigo, understand the need for the comfort and safe space that you may be looking for, to rediscover yourself, ignite the conversation with yourself and get more in touch with yourself. Consider checking out our services and finding a therapist that’s right for you.


 

References:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11332-022-01030-y

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/#:~:text=Exercise%20improves%20mental%20health%20by,self%2Desteem%20and%20cognitive%20function.&text=Exercise%20has%20also%20been%20found,self%2Desteem%20and%20social%20withdrawal.

https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/fulltext/2019/08000/the_role_of_exercise_in_preventing_and_treating.6.aspx?mc_cid=784bd3822a&mc_eid=c293f3f217

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11357-022-00595-3

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0166432818313214

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735817303306


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