By: Dr. Francesca Vazquez
The mental health benefits of exercise are undeniable and have been supported by literature time and time again. Studies have shown that exercise can be as powerful for treating depression as medication is and, before symptoms become significant, can help restore emotional balance. It has even been found that people who exercise throughout their lives are less likely to ever be diagnosed with depression, making it an essential preventive tool in mental health. There are various reasons why exercise is such as powerful mood booster and such a key component in preventive medicine.
Here are 3 (of the many) reasons why you should be “sweating it out” at least 3 times a week:
1. Stress Reduction
Exercise is one of the most powerful stress management tools. It directly impacts and modifies our brain and physiology, increasing the body and mind’s ability to manage stress. By helping your mind and body better handle stress, you become more resilient in the face of negative life events. In this way, even when faced with adversity, you are more able to bounce back and restore your mood.
2. Acts as a powerful antidepressant and anxiolytic
Not only does exercise assist in the management of stress, but it can also assist in diminishing symptoms of both depression and anxiety. It has a direct impact on important neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain in charge of mood), especially serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has long been associated with happiness. It is the neurotransmitter that medications such as prozac and lexapro target in order to improve symptoms of depression. Like prozac, exercise has been shown to drastically increase levels of serotonin in our brain. This has been found in both aerobic (running, cycling, etc.) and anaerobic (weight lifting and sprinting) exercises.
3. Increases Feel-Good Hormones in our bloodstream
In addition to increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, exercise also increases your endorphin levels, a hormone that leaves you feeling relaxed and happy. Endorphins are also powerful in decreasing pain perception, making low-impact exercise an ideal intervention for people experiencing chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis. It can even help women with mood swings around that time of the month!
To make sure you are benefiting from the powerful mental health benefits of exercise, try to include both aerobic and anaerobic exercises in your weekly routine. These may include running, cycling, high intensity interval training, sprints, weight training, barre, or anything that will break a sweat by increasing your heart rate.
For an even bigger effect, complement these exercises with mindful movement such as yoga. Yoga combines the effects of moderate exercise and mindfulness, two techniques proven to improve mental health. In addition to increasing endorphin levels and serotonin, yoga will decrease cortisol levels (hormone related to stress and inflammation), making you feel calmer and happier.
These two physiological mechanisms make aerobic/anaerobic exercise and yoga an ideal match for improving your mental health and making you more resilient when faced with adversity. By moving your body and sweating it out, you become stronger, mind & body, each day.