How Exercise Plays a Role in Mental Health
Researchers have been studying the effects of exercise on the human body and mind for years now, and they still conclude that exercise has great benefits to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Health Benefits to Exercising
We know there are health benefits to exercising. Working out will help with things like obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis. It also helps improve mood and decreases depression and anxiety. Exercising helps a person gain confidence, it refocuses their mind, gets them out and about with others, and increases body temperature, which is thought to have a calming effect.
Mental Health Benefits to Exercising
People have called exercise a magic drug for people with depression. Getting the blood pumping actually releases endorphins which are the feel-good chemicals of the brain, and decreases the amount of immune system chemicals in the body that make depression worse. “Individuals who exercise report fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and lower levels of stress and anger,” says Jasper Smits, director of the Anxiety Research and Treatment Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “Exercise appears to affect, like an antidepressant, particular neurotransmitter systems in the brain, and it helps patients with depression re-establish positive behaviors. For patients with anxiety disorders, exercise reduces their fears of fear and related bodily sensations such as a racing heart and rapid breathing.” (1)
Some people even suggest that with the benefits of a good exercise program, certain mental health patients can be weaned down on their medication or be treated without medication altogether. “Exercise can fill the gap for people who can’t receive traditional therapies because of cost or lack of access, or who don’t want to because of the perceived social stigma associated with these treatments,” Smits says. “Exercise also can supplement traditional treatments, helping patients become more focused and engaged.” (1)
Be Active in Things You Enjoy
Exercise can be a daunting undertaking. Most people are so overwhelmed by the thought of getting in shape that they avoid starting any kind of program altogether. The good news is that exercise does not have to occur only at a gym or on a treadmill, or while training for a marathon. Taking a walk is the easiest form of exercise, and it can be very enjoyable – walking along a lake path, walking the dog, or taking a hike through a beautifully wooded area in the fall. Bike rides may take a little more coordination and energy, but can be just as relaxing. Other people may choose to play volleyball with their kids in the yard, or get on a softball league, or even use household activities like gardening or cleaning to get moving. The important thing is to find ways to be active, and to continue to do them. Experts suggest exercising 30 minutes or more three to five days a week to improve depression symptoms.
If depression or mental health problems are disrupting your life, seek the help of a professional. They will come up with a treatment plan that will best serve you. In addition to this treatment, however, it would be beneficial to incorporate an exercise routine to your daily schedule.