At a time when technology has radically taken up considerable space in our lives, people are finding it more and more challenging to be mentally healthy. In fact, a study out of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden found that stress and heavy technology use are linked. In their findings, they asserted that the more frequent users of laptop computers and mobile phones reported more sleeping issues, as well as depressive symptoms.
There are several reasons that may explain the association, from the biochemical to the sociological; but what is important is that we recognize the issue, and we do something about it. As such, it is important that we proactively pursue measures that are geared at ensuring our well-being; and one of the best things we can turn to, where that is concerned, is exercise.
The Connection Between Exercise and Mental Health
According to a later published on the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, exercise is known to decrease anxiety and depression, while improving symptoms of low self-esteem and social withdrawal. One reason for this is that it is believed that increased blood circulation to the brain that is brought about by exercise positively impacts the communication between our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the regions in the brain that dictate mood and motivation, reactions to stress, and memory formation.
Why is this so, and how does exercise bring about such changes? Lets take a look:
What Happens Inside Our Brain When We Exercise
Exercise triggers the release of chemicals in our brain that makes us happy, according to science. What happens exactly is that when we start exercising, our brain perceives it as a stressful moment, and our brain responds by releasing a protein known as the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which helps protect and repairs memory neurons. Also, our brain simultaneously releases endorphins, which is primarily tasked with helping our body counteract the feeling of pain and discomfort from exercise, as well as make us happier.
You know that feeling when you’ve just had a workout and you feel like your problems are somehow more manageable? Our brain manufactures that feeling for us, as a direct result of exercise.
Exercise And Psychotherapy
For those who are battling more than the tolerable levels of stress, exercise is also considered to be beneficial. A study that was discussed in an article by the American Psychological Association found that people with major depressive disorder who exercised had higher rates of remission as those who were on antidepressants. After about a year, those who regularly exercised had lower depression scores than those who were not physically active. This study highlights the big role that exercise plays in not only in treating depression, but also in preventing its relapse.
A counseling and sport psychologist at the Center for Balanced Living in Ohio also recommends exercise to her patients. According to Jennifer Carter, PhD, she finds that patients often relax and open up more when they stroll as they talk.
Other Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
- Anxiety Alleviation. It has been reported that exercise can help lower anxiety sensitivity for people with anxiety disorders. If you’re feeling a little jittery, opt to sweat it out rather than have a hot bath.
- Brainpower Boost. Cardiovascular exercise is believed to help in the formation of new brain cells, as well as enhance overall brain performance. Tougher workouts are particularly connected to higher levels of BDNF, which translate to better decision-making, as well as higher learning and thinking.
- Prevention of Cognitive Decline. If you want to shore up degenerative diseases like Alzheimers as early as now, studies say that exercising between the ages of 25 and 45 can boost the production of chemicals that, among others, prevent the degeneration of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that facilitates memory and learning.
- Memory-Sharpening. Speaking of exercise and the hippocampus, it turns out that working out does not only prevent degenerative decline; it also actively promotes the production of new cells for sharper memory. In fact, researchers have found a direct link between brain development and physical activity for children. In adults, running sprints has been found to help improve vocabulary retention.
- Increased Relaxation. Exercise also helps improve relaxation. If you work out five to six hours before your bedtime, in particular, it will raise your body’s core temperature; when it goes back down to normal, your body takes that as a signal that it’s time to sleep.
In addition, exercise can help reboot your body clock (which is good for those struggling with substance abuse problems and can’t sleep on time), and enhance creativity.
Tips for Incorporating Exercise Into Your Routine
According to the World Health Organization, around 23% of adults in the world are not doing enough physical activities, and that makes them more susceptible to health problems. Make sure you do not end up as a part of that unfortunate statistic and do your best to incorporate exercise into your habits. Mind these tips:
- Set a time for it. You do not need a full hour to achieve holistic health with exercise; in fact, all you need is 20 minutes, tops. Choose a time of the day that will realistically allow you to pursue it.
- Give yourself reminders. Plan your day with little timely reminders to exercise. For instance, some people opt to put gym clothes on top of their alarm clocks so that they can start the day with a session.
- To supplement exercise, of course, do not forget to eat healthy, and that does not mean that you have to give up on everything that is tasty. If you have a sweet tooth, for example, understanding what you can do to satisfy cravings while also meeting your fitness goals. More often than not, the key to ensuring youre eating well is to make better choices.
In addition, try and convince a friend to workout with you. This will not only motivate you to work out, it is also known to drive better results. In fact, studies have found that people who are a part of a team have higher pain tolerances.
Guest Blogger Bio: Sandy Getzky is the executive coordinating editor at The Global Nail Fungus Organization, a group committed to helping the 100+ million people suffering from finger and toenail fungus. Sandy is also a registered Herbalist and member of the American Herbalists Guild.