Most people exercise to impact their physical health, perhaps to get stronger, lose weight, reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure and so on. But many people don’t realize exercise can have a positive impact on mental health as well.
There are physical reasons, in the form of chemical reactions and releases, that allow people to experience stress relief, pleasure and even happiness while exercising. Working out produces norepinephrine, which is a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress, allowing you better cope with stress and anxiety. Physical exercise has also been linked to producing “happy chemicals” called endorphins, which can alleviate symptoms of a depression and anxiety. Another chemical released during exercise is dopamine, which occurs in response to any form of pleasure. People crave dopamine, which could lead to harmful addictions, but getting dopamine from another source, like exercise, could help someone avoid a dangerous addition or even aid an addict’s recovery.
Exercise has also proven to boost brainpower and sharpen memory. Cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells and improve overall brain performance. Performing physical activity on a regular basis also boosts memory and the ability to learn new things. Increased blood flood helps brain cells function at a high level and can help you feel alert during exercise and more focused afterward. Creativity and inspiration rise after exercise, too. Brain function begins to decline as you age, but staying active and getting outdoors boost chemicals in the brain to slow the rate in which cognitive decline occurs.
From a non-scientific perspective, exercise can offer the chance to be alone, a break from screens, or even positive social interaction if you are working out with a friend. I’m not a doctor, but can tell you from personal experience that I’m more likely to be in a better mode if I’ve gone for a run on a particular day. And if I notice I’ve been crabby or feeling down, I can often contribute my mood to not exercising. So get out there and exercise! Not only will you be improving your physical health, but you’ll enjoy mental health benefits as well. — Katie Helbig, Big River Running