Treating mental health disorders can be complex, as many variables can impact one’s mental wellness. Exercise is commonly cited as a way to improve one’s physical health, but it can also provide profound benefits for those suffering from mental health disorders.
How Exercise Positively Affects Your Mental Health?
Exercising regularly can promote better physical fitness and reduces the risk of many significant health problems. These include:
- Better overall feelings, improving quality of life.
- Reduced risk of illnesses like heart and lung disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
- Better long-term recovery from illnesses and conditions, such as a stroke.
And while these benefits are remarkable, they don’t directly address the mental health benefits. However, regular physical activity provides many benefits for mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. Physical activity results in complex chemical reactions within the body, producing several positive effects on the brain. These effects include:
1. Releasing neurotransmitters: Exercise results in the release of neurotransmitters throughout the central nervous system. The most common ones are endorphins, which block pain and increase sensations of pleasure.
Endocannabinoids are also released, which work with endorphins to create feelings of euphoria after exercise. Finally, the neurotransmitter dopamine is also released. Dopamine regulates heart rate, sleep cycles, mood, attention, working memory, learning, and pain processing, all of which can improve one’s mental state.
2. Promoting neuroplasticity: Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain and the nervous system to change activity in response to internal and external stimuli. Therefore, it is vital to learn new skills. In addition, exercise can promote neuroplasticity by increasing signaling factors.
3. Increased oxygen levels to the brain: Exercise gets your heart pumping and increases your oxygen supply, particularly to the brain. And increased oxygen can result in changes to the blood vessels in the brain, thus improving skills like memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. It can also reduce one’s risk of cognitive decline or developing conditions related to cognitive decline.
These physical effects can be achieved with as little as 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 days a week. And the physical effects noted above often translate into direct mental health benefits, such as:
- Stress relief: Regular exercise is a powerful stress reliever as it can reduce levels of stress-related hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Additionally, exercise can provide resistance to some stressors, helping you manage stress and prevent it in some instances.
- Improved self-esteem: Participating in a regular exercise program can help you lose weight if that is one of your goals. And even if it is not, achieving other fitness-related goals often improves one’s confidence. Both of these effects often translate to improved self-esteem.
- Improved mood: Regular exercise is a great way to create a more positive mood and reduce negative thoughts. This can tremendously benefit individuals suffering from mental health issues such as major depression.
- Better sleep: Mental health conditions may cause poor sleeping patterns. Physical activity can affect your sleep quality, improving efficiency and duration. It also enhances sleep onset latency, which refers to the time it takes one to fall asleep. Therefore, incorporating physical activity can provide better sleep.
- Sharper thinking: Besides the other benefits resulting in improved mental health, exercise can boost mental clarity, attention span, and working memory.
As you can see, exercise positively affects your mental health, whether you struggle with mental illness or not. Related to some of the most common mental health conditions, exercise provides the following direct benefits:
- It can manage symptoms of depression by increasing self-esteem and overall quality of life and reducing negative thoughts. Aerobic exercise, in particular, can have an antidepressant effect.
- Exercise can help those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by regulating dopamine levels, which improves executive function and attention in adults and children.
- Exercise, particularly high-intensity exercise, is beneficial in helping with symptoms of anxiety, including restlessness, fatigue, irritability, and sleeplessness.
- Exercise can reduce shifts in mood and promote an improved sense of well-being for those with bipolar disorder.
- For those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, exercise can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Regular exercise can help reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder by desensitizing a person to internal arousal cues, enhancing brain function, regulating stress-related hormones, and promoting neuroplasticity.
The link between mental health and exercise is well-established. Therefore, developing a routine for exercise can have profound benefits for individuals coping with a wide range of mental health disorders. Exercise positively affects your mental health!