Exercise and Mental Health Go Hand in Hand

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I’m happy to be back to the blogging land today! In my last post I shared that I wrote a speech on the Mental Health Benefits of Exercise for a Communications class. I’ve decided to put my speech into blog post form because some of my findings were pretty cool.

A lot of us are aware of the physical benefits of exercise such as weight loss, cardiovascular health, muscle strengthening, and the list goes on…however, not many may know how truly affective it is when it comes to improving our mental health.

I should first start off by sharing what mental health is. According to the mentalhealth.gov website, it is our emotional, psychological, and social-well being. It affects how we think, feel, act, make choices, and respond to stress. Some things that affect our mental health are biological factors (such as family genetics), and life experiences, such as trauma or abuse. While some of these things that play a role are out of our control, there are things we can do to impact our mental health.

First and foremost, regular exercise boosts a person’s overall mood. The most common benefit is stress reduction. This is because during exercise, your brain produces more of the chemical called norepinephrine, which moderates the brain’s response to stress. Some things that can cause stress might be poor sleep patterns or illness. Luckily, even just moderate exercise can significantly improve your quality of sleep and boost your immune system.

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A study by Psychology Today stated that 2-3 hours a week of walking or running can even help treat mild to moderate depression. This is because your brain releases endorphins- the reason people call it “runner’s high.” It gives you that “feel good” sense. Ok ok…these are al things we’ve probably known for a while now. Buuuut stay with me here. In that same study by Psychology Today, they found that over a 3 month period of walking 20 mins a day/ 5 times per week, reduced the risk of depression in 83% of the participants. This is because they found it actually changed the chemical makeup of the brain and literally regenerated new cells faster than those who did not participate.

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The doctor who conducted that study explained that there are many factors that influence a person’s susceptibility to depression, including genetics. He also stated that while anti-depressants may be very necessary in certain cases, he strongly believes they can sometimes be eliminated with the increase of physical activity.

Another cool find is that exercise prevents cognitive decline. It boosts dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which are chemicals that have to do with focus and attention. Because of this production in the brain, researches have stated that exercise works in a similar manner to the ADHD medication, Ritalin. (Without the side effects). DISCLAIMER: This is not a blog post telling people to stop taking their meds, or bashing the pharmaceutical industry.

A Harvard Health article states that exercise also enlarges the size of the Hippocampus in the brain, which is the area associated with memory and learning. They’ve found correlations between moderate daily exercise and the prevention of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimers.

Lastly, it boosts a person’s self esteem. It gives a sense of accomplishment to finish a workout, increases self-efficacy (the confidence we have in ourselves to complete a goal), and seeing positive physical changes in our bodies boosts esteem too.

Usually people who exercise regularly make healthier decisions as well. (This is my struggle point, I’ll be honest….I love pizza)

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The eating healthier thing is because of the transfer effect. The transfer effect basically means that when a person improves an area in their life, the desire is triggered in them to make more positive improvements in other areas as well.

SO as I come in for a landing, I’d like to say that if you find yourself to be a little forgetful, absent-minded, or stressed (as we all are sometimes), make a regular routine by just simply walking 20 minutes a day and work your way up if you’d like!

 

Thanks for reading 🙂 Laura 

Feature photo credit:

Patrick Hendry

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