Staying physically active is one of the best things you can do to boost your physical health. Regular workouts lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Plus, moving your body and working your muscles against resistance helps prevent muscle and bone loss as you age. Exercise can also do good things for your mental health. Studies show that physical activity helps improve symptoms of depression and some even suggest that exercise may be beneficial for anxiety – but why? Let us look at how exercise can give you mental health a boost.
Promotes the Release of “Feel Good ” Chemicals
When you work out, your nervous system releases endorphins, endogenous chemicals with the capacity to subdue pain. Endorphin release helps diminish the perception of how hard you are exercising during a workout and may explain the runner’s high, the euphoric feeling runners get when they run. The best form of exercise to boost endorphin release is a movement that elevates your heart rate for sustained periods of time, like running or cycling. Exercise also leads to changes in other neurotransmitters, or nerve chemicals, that affect mood, such as serotonin. People who are depressed often have low serotonin levels.
Sleep problems are common in people who are anxious or depressed and being unable to sleep can worsen these symptoms. You might have experienced a sleepless night or two yourself when you were stressed out or worried about something. Research shows that exercise improves sleep quality. It also heightens the amount of slow-wave, deep sleep you need for complete rejuvenation. The best time to exercise to improve sleep quality is in the morning. Although there is no evidence that exercising later in the day interferes with sleep, the benefits are greater for morning exercisers.
Positively Impacts the Gut Microbiome
Recent research shows that depression may start in the gut microbiome, another name for the trillions of bacteria that reside in your gut. Some studies suggest that people who are depressed have higher levels of bacteria linked to inflammation. In fact, low-grade may a factor in the symptoms people with depression feel. One study of healthy, younger women found that physical activity modifies the composition of the gut microbiome in a way that may positively impact some aspects of mental and physical functioning. One theory is that exercise alters the gut microbiome in a manner the reduces inflammation and that may explain how exercise improves symptoms of depression in some people.
Get an Energy Boost
Who couldn’t use an energy boost? You would think that exercise would tire you out, but research shows people feel more invigorated after a workout. Plus, over time, physical activity improves stamina and endurance, so you have more energy and vitality. One study that analyzed 70 previous studies looking at how exercise affects fatigue found people who start an exercise program felt less fatigued and had more energy. It is not the first thing you want to do when you feel tired, but the hardest part is putting on your exercise shoes. Take a brisk walk outdoors the next time you feel exhausted.
If you are stressed or suffer from mental health symptoms such as depression or anxiety, it can damage your self-esteem. You suffer from feelings of inadequacy or doubt your ability to handle the things that life throws at you. Exercise helps you break that cycle! Once you discover what your body is capable of, it gives you a lift and renewed confidence that translates over into other aspects of your life. You learn that you are strong, and you do have stamina. Start slow and gradually build. You will be surprised at how your body and mindset will change over time, along with your body.
The Bottom Line
Now, you know how exercise can give your mental health a boost too. There are so many reasons to move your body more. It will improve your physical health and give you a mental lift as well. So, get moving! To learn more about exercise and mental health check out Jeff Ditzell Psychiatry or find us on social.