How Does Exercise Affect Your Mental Health?
You already know regular physical activity is essential for physical health, but did you know it has extensive benefits for your mental health too? According to reports issued by the American Psychological Association, the evidence is clear: Exercise improves mental health. Researchers have consistently found that exercise not only delivers a short-term mood boost but also reduces the likelihood of depression, anxiety, and mood disturbances when practiced regularly. Curious how a regular exercise routine can help make you a happier, healthier, more emotionally stable human? Learn more below.
Exercise Improves Brain Health
If your brain isn’t as healthy as it could be, your mental health will suffer. But here’s the good news: Exercise is a perfect brain-health-boosting supplement that doesn’t cost you a dime. That’s right — researchers have found that regular exercise has a uniquely positive effect on the human brain due to its effects on the circulatory and nervous systems. Because exercise increases the circulatory response, it improves blood flow to the brain, thereby increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients the brain receives.
As a result, the brain increases the production of critical hormones and neurotrophic factors that are often lacking in sedentary individuals. These substances are known to support new brain cell development, the formation of new nerve connections, and improved nerve signaling.
Exercise is also known to stimulate the release of multiple mood-boosting brain chemicals, including endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. Though the positive effects of these substances are rather short lived (the benefits last several hours at most), increased endogenous brain chemical production has a positive, long-term effect on mood regulation.
Exercise Improves Symptoms of Depression
Researchers have also linked exercise with increased nerve development (neurogenesis) in an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for regulating emotions, learning, and memory. Here’s the kicker: Mounting evidence suggests that numerous mental health conditions are tied to reduced neurogenesis in the hippocampal region, and the evidence for it leading to depression is particularly strong. As such, researchers truly believe that exercise has the power to improve or even alleviate both short- and long-term symptoms of depression.
Exercise Helps Alleviate Anxiety
Exercise doesn’t just ease symptoms of anxiety temporarily. When practiced on a regular basis, it also helps prevent anxiety from coming back. How? Because exercise stimulates increased production of the mood-boosting brain chemicals we mentioned earlier, it provides an immediate emotional-leveling effect. But exercise also increases the availability of a few other important neurochemicals — gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), endogenous cannabinoids, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
Why is that important?
GABA, BDNF, and endogenous cannabinoids all function to reduce symptoms of anxiety naturally. They’re basically like your brain’s version of an anti-anxiety medication — and they don’t produce any undesirable side effects!
Routine exercise also activates the frontal regions of the brain, which are responsible for executive function and regulating the activity of another brain region called the amygdala. When you perceive a threat (anxiety is a threat response), if the threat is mild or moderate, the frontal regions of your brain are supposed to kick into action to help you respond in the most rational way.
However, if the threat appears severe, the amygdala should immediately take over and trigger the classic fight-or-flight response in an effort to keep you safe. Unfortunately, though, the amygdala responds in excess in anxiety sufferers, which means they experience the fight-or-flight response even if the perceived threat is not actually severe. Because boosting the activity of the frontal regions of the brain helps regulate the amygdala’s response to perceived threats, exercise can be an incredibly effective tool for managing anxiety.
Exercise Improves Cognitive Function
Because routine exercise increases oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain, it helps increase volume in certain brain regions while improving nerve development and communication. As a result, getting your heart pumping several times per week can actually boost your cognitive function!
Increased cognitive function helps improve memory retention, executive decision-making abilities, emotional regulation, and information processing — all of which strengthen your ability to respond appropriately in any given situation. When your brain can better process new information and utilize the information provided by existing memories, you make better decisions. You’re more capable of making choices that help you avoid chronic, unhelpful behaviors and are also more likely to recognize and implement solutions for positive change!
At NuBody, we specialize in helping you achieve your health, fitness, and wellness goals through proper nutrition and a holistic approach to overall well-being. While our focus is on nutrition, we also encourage our clients to implement a good exercise regimen into their daily lives. To learn more about our nutrition and weight management services or schedule a consultation, feel free to give our team a call today at 916-631-1920 or connect with us online, and we’ll be in touch promptly!