Exercise to Improve Mental Health
You struggle to get out of bed in the morning and then have all you can do to make it through your day once you get to work, so how can your doctor even think to suggest that you add exercise to your to-do list? It’s because research has shown there are multiple benefits for your mental health.
4 Reasons to Start Exercising Today
1. Relieve Anxiety: Exercise won’t cure anxiety, but with regular exercise, some studies have found it to be as effective as medications. Exercise reduces your resting heart rate, while improving heart and lung function, which is associated with a sense of overall well-being. A Princeton University study also found that exercise produces new neurons in the brain that are specially designed to release GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps reduce anxiety by calming the excitable neurons in the brain. The research found a drastic difference in the brains of the active animals over the sedentary animals, suggesting exercise can have a profound impact when it comes to reducing anxiety. When it comes to movement, frequency is more important than intensity or duration. Short walks every day, even 15 to 20 minutes, are better than two intense spinning classes each week.
2. Boost Mood & Prevent Depression: Our bodies and minds are wired to feel good after physical activity and tend to revolt when parked in a cubicle behind a computer screen. In order to keep our bodies and minds healthy, we have to move. While exercise alone may not be enough to relieve major depression in everyone, it can enhance the effects of antidepressants. Moderate daily exercise is more beneficial than intense exercise a few days a week. A 30 minute walk every day releases enough endorphins that help boost mood. Besides helping to relieve existing depression, research also suggests that regular exercise can actually prevent it. University of Toronto researchers examined 25 studies that were done over the past 26 years and concluded that “regardless of individual predispositions, moderate exercise not only treats, but can prevent depression.”
3. Keep Your Mind Sharp: As we age our brains get smaller, so it’s important to keep them in good shape. We know it’s important to stay mentally active by doing activities such as crossword puzzles or playing games, but physical activity is equally as important for our brains. Did you know that stress actually deteriorates the brain? Exercise helps reverse the damage by promoting the production of norepinephrine and similar neurohormones that are responsible for improving cognitive function. Working out can’t prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but it can prevent cognitive decline.
4. Increase Productivity: Do you want to be more alert and focused at work? Exercise can help do that too. When you exercise, blood flow to the brain increases and improves alertness. It also gives you more energy. So instead of drinking a cup of coffee when you feel sluggish in the afternoon, take a few minutes and go for a walk in the fresh air. You will probably come back and feel more prepared to tackle the task at hand.
Although it seems impossible to think about exercise when you’re depressed or anxious, you can’t argue with the research—exercise helps. You don’t need a gym membership to reap the benefits. Walking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing and even gardening can all help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Try not to think about it as exercise and think about moving instead. Starting out with something small, like walking to the neighborhood coffee shop, then the next day try to go a little further. Slowly work your way up to a brisk walk every day. The combination of fresh air and movement will help your mind and body.