It seems like everyone is talking about the benefits of exercise for mental health these days. There are several articles making the rounds saying that exercise might be the best prescription for mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Maybe you’ve been wondering how exercise works to relieve mental health problems. Even though we don’t have a definitive answer for why exercise is so helpful, there seem to be a few different ways this could work.
From chemical changes in your brain to changes in your personal outlook on life, here are a few of the ways exercise can boost your mental health.
When you’re learning about the benefits of regular exercise you’re likely to hear the word ‘endorphins’ over and over. Strenuous exercise releases endorphins in your brain. Endorphins are ‘feel-good’ chemicals. That means exercise makes you feel good, right? Maybe that’s enough of an explanation for you, but here’s a little bit more information about what endorphins are and what they do.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain) that are released by the pituitary gland. These chemicals are involved in a lot of different natural body processes. They serve as natural rewards for processes like eating and drinking, and they also have pain-relieving effects. When your pituitary gland releases endorphins your pain is numbed and your mood becomes elevated.
Many people have heard of a ‘runner’s high’. A runner’s high is a euphoric feeling that you get during or after a strenuous run, and this is the best example of how exercise endorphins work. Working out immediately releases endorphins and also reduces your stress chemicals when you’re not working out.
We know that a sense of community is one way to achieve success in your fitness journey. Having a workout group makes it easier to stick to a routine. Working out with friends makes fitness more fun and social. Group fitness, whether in fitness classes or just having a gym buddy, has a lot of benefits. One extra benefit is that having a strong sense of community has mental health benefits.
Creating a social support network can be hard work. It takes a lot of effort to meet people and maintain relationships. One way to make this easier is to find a social activity that you enjoy doing. If you join a sports team, gym or fitness studio you can meet new people easily. Also, not only are you meeting new people, you have an instant connection because you have something in common. This can be a huge jump-start to creating a support network.
Goal Setting and Accomplishment
There is some research that suggests that the way we set goals for ourself can factor into depression. This research suggests that setting general goals can actually contribute to depression. Achievable, specific goals are the opposite. Setting the right kinds of goals can give people a sense of purpose and accomplishment. These goals, however, need to be a specific type.
Fitness goals are a great example of specific, achievable goals. Because it can be so easy to make noticeable improvements in your fitness, especially as a beginner, fitness goals can be very encouraging at first. Whether your goals are about gaining cardiovascular fitness or strength, specific goals give you something to work toward.
When you set fitness goals for any reason it’s important to break those goals into manageable chunks. By breaking a goal into smaller parts you can measure your progress and feel accomplished. This is particularly important when you’re setting goals in relation to mental health. Taking things slow and constantly measuring your progress are important tools in the journey.
… and Much More
Those are just a few examples of how fitness can help with mental health. Research is ongoing, and exercise if definitely a popular topic in current medical studies. Even though research is ongoing, it’s probably safe to say that exercise is good for nearly everything.
Exercise certainly has a lot of benefits. The physical effects of exercise alone are enough reason to add exercise to your routine, but the mental benefits are definitely an added bonus. While nobody would recommend trying to self-treat mental illness with exercise alone, it can be a free and simple addition to your health routine.
If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, be sure to consult a doctor. If, however, you’re just looking for a simple way to boost your mood, exercise can be a great option.