It's no secret that exercise is great for your physical health. Exercise encourages healthy weight maintenance, heart health, strength building and added endurance.
But did you know that exercise has been proven to have a significant effect on mental health as well? Countless studies have shown a steady routine of cardio activity - such as biking or rigorous walking - releases chemicals in the brain that can play a role in fighting issues such as stress or depression. So if you are dealing with mental health issues, it is important to understand how a workout routine can effectively help treat them.
Brain Chemicals Released During Exercise
When you exercise, your body releases key chemicals called neurotransmitters. These are the brain’s messengers. They connect to neurons, allowing them to send signals. Some people might feel a strong boost when these are released. For others, a deficiency is restored, bringing them to normal levels.
One neurotransmitter you have likely heard of is endorphins. This provides the well-known effect of “runner’s high,” a rush of euphoria and well-being that follows intense exercise. Through regular exercise, the body can release levels of endorphins that help reduce stress and feelings of anxiety or depression. Your body can crave more, creating motivation for exercise, which in turn helps fight these symptoms further.
If you ever feel a total lack of drive, without any real sensation of fulfillment, you could be suffering from a dopamine deficiency. Exercise and dopamine go hand-in-hand. This neurotransmitter, called the “motivation molecule,” is responsible for pushing you toward completing goals and feeling good about your accomplishments. An exercise routine can help boost the production of this chemical, which also helps regulate mood, focus, concentration and memory.
Another important neurotransmitter released through exercise is serotonin. Low levels are shown to encourage depression, feelings of anger or hostility and antisocial behavior. When you get a boost of serotonin, your mood can be significantly lifted, leaving you feeling more upbeat, friendly and eager to spend time with others.
4. Epinephrine (Adrenaline)
Epinephrine, a hormone more commonly known as adrenaline, also plays an important role in your brain. It is released during moments of perceived stress, and it can provide numerous benefits to your mental health. When you feel its rush set in, often behind increased heart rate to get the blood flowing quickly, you will likely experience an intense rush of focus and motivation.
Some theorize this creates what’s called “depersonalization,” when your brain isn’t focused on yourself but on getting through whatever situation is triggering the release of adrenaline. During this time, you will experience a reprieve from problems and worries that could feel overwhelming.
Other Mental Health Benefits From Exercise
The outstanding benefits of these chemicals alone are a great reason to make time for exercise. However, they aren’t the only positive ways getting active will benefit you.
By sticking to an exercise routine, you will be constantly rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, building your confidence. If you are fighting stress, this reward will help alleviate it by providing a consistent source of control and fulfillment. Also, anxiety levels have been shown to drop significantly as well. In fact, the simple act of sticking to any routine has been shown to help overall mental health so much that doctors recommend it. By making exercise into a routine, you can get even more of a benefit from it.
While there are many ways to be active on your own, consider implementing some group activity. When you engage in group exercise, you’ll also have opportunities to feed off others in a positive way, encouraging one another and having a sense of accomplishment. Even the simple act of putting yourself in a social situation can help reduce feelings of anxiety or issues with self-worth.
Ready, Set, Go!
While these benefits play a very valuable role in mental health, they are far from a complete list. But it is widely apparent that exercise has positive impacts on mental health.
You do not have to jump in all at once, though. If you are ready to embrace a more active lifestyle and reap the benefits, start with something small today. Try some cardio in your home or go for a walk. Then begin working on a smart routine you know you can handle, but that will offer a challenge. Be sure to incorporate exercises you can enjoy as well. You likely will not stick with something you despise. Once you find your routine, you can discover exactly how powerful these psychological benefits of exercise can be for you.