The Close Connection Between Exercise and Mental Health

There is a clear connection between exercise and mental health. When you hear doctors or therapists talk about mental health, what they are referring to is your brain, which is the location of the neurotransmitters responsible for making you feel emotions. Neurotransmitters are chemicals inside the brain that send messages to your body, telling it how to feel For example, serotonin is associated with depression and happiness, endorphins are associated with pain relief, and dopamine is associated with pleasure and reward.

When your neurotransmitters are not sending signals properly, you may feel the impact of lower serotonin and other chemicals. To fix this problem, you must find a way to increase the chemicals. One way is with anti-depressants. Another more promising way is with exercise.

Exercise and the Brain

When you exercise, signals are sent to the neurotransmitters, telling them to produce higher levels of feel-good chemicals. Exercise also increases the growth of new brain cells through neurogenesis. More cells grow in the hippocampus area of the brain that is associated with memory.

Much research has been done on exercise and its effects on mental health. Results show exercise acts as an antidepressant. It reduces stress hormones and boosts feel-good chemicals, including serotonin. It also boosts endorphins which are the body’s natural pain relievers.

The brain is directly affected by exercise. However, there are indirect effects that also improve mental health.

Positive Indirect Effects of Exercise

Your mental health is linked to your physical health. Research study results show those who are better physical health also have better mental health. You can probably relate. Think about the last time you were sick with the flu. Your mood was likely depressed. It’s hard to be happy when something on your body hurts. That’s why exercise is so important.

For example, obesity is very common in America. It is linked to diseases like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart diseases, all of which are associated with poor mental health.

Exercise is one tool that can help you lose weight, which will in turn, reduce risks for disease and improve mental health. Inflammation is a source of pain brought on by many illnesses, like arthritis and Lyme disease. Inflammation can travel to all parts of your body, even your brain and central nervous system.

Inflammation is known to cause confusion, memory and concentration problems, depression, anxiety, and pain. Exercise, combined with an anti-inflammatory diet, can reduce inflammation, and improve your mental health symptoms.

You may be thinking you will have to run miles and lift weights every day to reduce inflammation and lose weight. That’s just not true.

How Much Exercise is Needed?

Many studies have been done on the amount of exercise it takes to improve physical and mental health. Most reports suggest between thirty and sixty minutes, three or four times a week, is enough to boost your mood.

Just like with everything else, the benefits don’t last forever. Therefore, it’s crucial you continue an exercise plan to maintain good mental health. Keep in mind you do not have to complete your exercise all at once. You can break them into ten or fifteen-minute segments as long as your cardio and respiratory systems get a good workout.

Interestingly, research also shows over-exercising does not provide more mental health benefits. With the hundreds of types of exercise available, you should have no trouble finding something fun and healthy to do for a few hours each week.

Best Exercises for Mental Health

Exercise is any activity that gets your heart beating faster and strengthens lung power. For some, this may mean joining a spin class at the local gym. For others, it may mean cleaning your house or landscaping the front yard.

The best exercise is the one you enjoy. You don’t have to engage in the same activity each time, either. One day you could go walking with a friend and another you could play swimming pool volleyball or practice yoga. You can create your own exercise plan and it does not have to follow a celebrity’s plan or the trendy new fitness craze.

The key is to never force yourself to do an exercise you hate or that will put you at risk of injury.

Non-Physical Exercises for Mental Health

Physical activity is necessary for mental health. However, on the days you are not exercising, you can do non-physical activities to improve mental health even more. You can exercise your mind.

Mental health involves more than just mood. Memory, cognitive processing, and concentration are a few examples of brain skills that affect mental health. The better your skills, the happier you may feel. On the other hand, if you experienced a life-changing trauma in your past and have not properly dealt with it, your thoughts, memories, and other functions may be impaired. Once you overcome the trauma, you will notice a clearer mind and improved ability to stay focused.

So, what are these non-physical activities? Most are therapies led by a licensed mental health professional. Examples include cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, meditation, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and in some cases, ketamine-assisted psychotherapy.

How to Get Motivated to Exercise

Getting motivated can be challenging, especially after working all day and taking care of personal and social responsibilities. It sounds much more appealing to stay indoors and relax. Motivation often comes from setting goals. When there is something you want it becomes easier to find the energy to go and get it. If your goal is to buy a new car, you start researching, test driving, and saving money until you find the right one.

Set a goal for your mental health. Goal setting can be done on your own or with a counselor, who will have worksheets and techniques to guide you through the process.

In conclusion, the close connection between exercise and mental health is real. It is a gift you should give yourself. If you need help getting started, reach out to a mental health center to speak with a counselor. They have the answers you need and deserve.