We regularly share information about current research and studies that link exercise to improved physical health. But fitness can be as effective as pharmaceuticals for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress, even ADHD and PTSD. Here’s how consistent exercise improves mental health.
The Trickle-Down Effect
While losing weight or fitting a certain physical ideal may be a motivating factor for people to begin training, it isn’t the reason people tend to stick with it. For the majority of those who follow a consistent fitness program, the big pay-off is the sense of well-being. People who exercise regularly sleep better, enjoy more energy, feel more positive and relaxed, and enjoy sharper memories. That’s in addition to the physical benefits – improved endurance and strength, reduced body fat, and more muscle. When it comes to mental health, the impact of exercise is just as significant.
- Depression – Studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as medication for treating mild to moderate depression, without the side effects inherent to pharmaceuticals. That’s because the act of purposeful movement promotes changes not just in the body, but in the brain. Exercise stimulates neural growth, reduces inflammation, and creates activity patterns that can lead to feelings of calmness. Plus, exercise releases endorphins, the feel-good hormone. A study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that the risk of major depression dropped by 26% in participants who ran for just 15 minutes per day, or walked for one hour. Sticking to an exercise schedule can also reduce the likelihood of depression relapses, since it gives you something to focus on, which can serve as a distraction from negative thought patterns.
- Anxiety – Exercise is a great way to relieve tension and stress. Practicing mindfulness while you train makes for a better workout session, and it’s a good way to learn to focus your thoughts. You’ll also boost physical and mental energy, and enjoy that endorphin rush.
- Stress – Stress impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Feeling stressed can lead to headaches, muscle cramps, an elevated heart rate, chest tightness, insomnia, digestive issues, and more. And in a miserable cycle, feeling anxiety over these physical conditions can cause additional stress. Exercise can help relieve tension in the body, while also releasing endorphins in the brain. And while it seems counterintuitive, working those muscles will actually help them relax.
- ADHD – Physical movement elevates dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the brain, which are directly linked to attention and focus. That’s why exercise can help improve concentration, memory, and mood.
- PTSD – After experiencing trauma, the nervous system can lock itself into an immobilization stress response. But focusing on your body and the sensations you feel during mindful movement can actually help reset your nervous system.
How Much Exercise Do You Need?
A little bit of exercise really does go a long way. People who can commit to 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise three to five times per week will reap the physical and mental benefits. A personal trainer, like the certified professionals here at Framework Personal Training in Reno, can help you get started. Contact us today for a free consultation, and let us answer all of your questions about our methods, our facility, and our experience.