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10 Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health

The Found Team

When you’re trying to lose weight through a weight loss program or simply improve your health, exercise is one critical component of success. The question, does exercise increase metabolism, is a definite yes. But did you also know that exercise is an essential component of mental health?

That’s right. The benefits of exercise on mental health and mental wellbeing include that one may experience a reduction of emotional health symptoms for those who suffer from moderate depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Physical fitness and exercise may also boost your mood, self-esteem, and your ability to concentrate.

Although we often focus on what moderate exercise does for our physical well-being, the mental benefits are just as important. If you’re looking for more reasons to add regular exercise to your routine, you’ve come to the right place. 

How Does Exercise Improve Your Mental Health?

The relationship between exercise and mental health is more difficult to evaluate and document than the connection between exercise and physical health. However, research has uncovered several ways in which exercise is critical to a healthy mental well being. 

Some key connections between physical activity and brain health include:

  • Release of endorphins – Working out causes your body to release endorphins. These mood-boosting neurotransmitters help relieve pain and deliver that euphoric feeling often associated with the “runner’s high.”

  • Production of brain chemicals – Exercise also stimulates the production of dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals are necessary for many systems in your body to function optimally, including your brain.

  • Reduction of cortisol – Regular exercise also helps clear cortisol—otherwise known as the stress hormone—from your body. This can help moderate levels of inflammation that have been linked to depression and anxiety.

Next time you lace up your shoes to go for a jog or bike ride, or run at your target heart rate for weight loss, you can do so knowing you’re giving both your body and brain a much-needed boost.

Exercise and Your Brain: 10 Key Perks

The positive effects and benefits of aerobic exercise on mental health are wide-ranging and indisputable. Of the many benefits, the 10 most prominent include the following:

#1: Reduce Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

Exercising for as little as 30 minutes per day might help reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine analyzed a collection of studies connecting exercise and treatment for anxiety and depression. Their findings indicate that exercise can be favorably compared to medications for the treatment of these disorders. 

For a successful experience, here are some helpful suggestions:

  • Select types of exercise that you enjoy 

  • Set reasonable goals for physical activity

  • Pencil in exercise time on your calendar

  • Seek support from your mental health professional

The first suggestion—choosing activities you like to do—is critical. Otherwise, exercise will begin to feel more like a chore than a pleasurable experience.

#2: Help Lessen PTSD Symptoms

Many of the symptoms associated with PTSD are similar to those of anxiety. In a summary of 19 existing studies on the impact of exercise on PTSD symptoms, researchers from Boston University and Ohio State University found significant links between the implementation of a regular exercise program and a reduction of PTSD symptoms.

While further research is needed to pinpoint the amount and types of exercise that are most beneficial, the indication is that exercise (in general) can help those who suffer from PTSD.

#3: Alleviate Stress

While PTSD is still being studied, exercise’s ability to reduce stress has been proven. 

Stress is any disruption to your body’s state of homeostasis. The introduction of a stressor causes your body to produce a response. The endocrine and nervous systems are primarily responsible for the stress response. These systems get your body ready to fight the stressor. This is when cortisol is produced.

Not all stress is bad, but when it becomes chronic, your body produces too much cortisol. High cortisol levels are linked to:

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Poor immune response

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Trouble with digestion

  • Increased anxiety

When you exercise regularly, your body releases endorphins which can alleviate the continued impact of high cortisol levels.

#4: Improve Mood

So how does regular exercise improve cardiovascular function and cognitive function? The endorphin burst acts as a mood booster as well as a stress buster. Even short stints outside for a walk or jog have the power to uplift your heart and mood. A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found the list of activities after which subjects experienced an improved mood state included:

  • Swimming

  • Cycling

  • Rowing

  • Running

  • Walking

  • Aerobics

  • Line dancing

This indicates that the type of exercise you do isn’t as important as simply doing something that gets your body moving.

#5: Enhance Cognitive Function

Exercising also helps your brain work more productively. People who exercise frequently have better cognitive skills such as:

  • Higher functioning memory and recall

  • Ability to solve problems

  • Effective logic and reasoning 

  • Capacity for concentration

#6: Reduce Feelings of Isolation and Loneliness

When you’re struggling with loneliness and isolation, you might lack the motivation required to get out and exercise. However, doing so might be just what you need to find connections with other people. There are many ways you can exercise with others, including:

  • Join a group – A quick online search will help you find many exercise-focused groups in your area. Whether you enjoy walking, biking, hiking, or jogging, it’s more fun to do it with a group. You’ll also likely make new friends in the process.

  • Use a gym – Working out in a gym can be intimidating, but when you have a trainer to show you the ropes, you’ll feel at ease in no time. 

  • Take a class – You can also bond with fellow fitness enthusiasts when you take a class at a local fitness center. Yoga, pilates, aerobics, and other fun classes are widely available.

Exercise isn’t just good for your body, it can also help you make connections with like-minded people. This can be especially helpful when you’re trying to lose weight. Having a friend who’s going through the same process gives you someone to conserve with and discuss different strategies.

#7: Boost Resilience

We’ve already discussed how exercise can help you better handle stress. Another mental health benefit that pairs with the stress-busting powers of exercise is increased resilience. There isn’t a way to completely eliminate stress from your life. However, exercise can help you better cope with and overcome hurdles in your way.

This includes both innate resilience and active resilience. Researchers at Princeton found that exercise helps reorganize your brain, making the natural stress response less intrusive on the brain’s natural function. 

You can also actively harness the resilience acquired through exercise by:

  • Remembering how you overcame difficulty to finish a tough workout

  • Visualizing the positive outcomes that are possible when you push yourself

  • Reminding yourself that tough times pass eventually

Engaging in active positivity is easier when you’ve experienced positive outcomes by working hard on your physical well-being.

#8: Increase Self-Esteem

Many of the same convictions that make you more resilient when you exercise can also help give your self-esteem a lift. When you prove to yourself that you can overcome difficult objectives like finishing a tough workout or completing a race, your confidence surges. 

#9: Upgrade Sleep

Exercise helps you sleep better and reduces the likelihood of sleep-inhibiting problems, such as:

  • Sleep apnea

  • Insomnia

  • Disrupted sleep

  • Daytime sleepiness

It’s critical to ensure that you’re getting sufficient, high-quality sleep. When you don’t rest well, your physical and mental health suffer. Poor sleep has been linked to several problems that impact your brain including:

  • Higher incidence of depression

  • Memory loss and impairment

  • Reduced cognitive function

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Increase in anxiety

Combine these mental health consequences of insufficient sleep with serious physical problems, such as cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, and it’s easy to see why sleep and health are deeply intertwined. 

#10: Refocus Your Mind

We’ve all been there—something goes wrong early in the morning and the rest of the day spirals downward from there. While exercise can’t prevent negative experiences from arising, it can help you refocus your energy so that you don’t concentrate on elements outside your control. 

Even just a short, brisk walk outside will help you work through your emotions so you can focus on the rest of your day with fresh eyes.

Weight Loss Success with Support from Found 

Exercise isn’t just beneficial for your body. The mental health benefits of breaking a sweat regularly include a reduction of symptoms of serious illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Exercise can also boost your mood, self-esteem, and brainpower. 

These are all necessary components of good overall health. 

If you’re struggling to figure out how exercise fits into your weight loss journey, the experts at Found can help. We combine the power of research, prescription medications, and welcoming, supportive communities to devise a plan that works. 

Take our quiz today to see if Found is right for you.

Sources: 

Sports Medicine. Exercise and Endorphins. https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-198401020-00004

The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. Exercise for the Treatment of Depression and Anxiety. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.2190/PM.41.1.c

Frontiers in Psychology. Exercise Intervention in PTSD: A Narrative Review and Rationale for Implementation. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00133/full

ACSM Health and Fitness Journal. The Role of Exercise in Stress Management. https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/fulltext/2013/05000/stress_relief__the_role_of_exercise_in_stress.6.asp

Journal of Psychosomatic Research. The Acute Effects of Exercise on Mood State. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8778396/

Physiology & Behavior. Aerobic Exercise Improves Hippocampal Function and Increases BDNF in the Serum of Young Adult Males. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938411003088

Princeton University. Exercise Reorganizes the Brain to Be More Resilient to Stress. https://www.princeton.edu/news/2013/07/03/exercise-reorganizes-brain-be-more-resilient-stress

PubMed. The Bidirectional Relationship Between Exercise and Sleep: Implications for Exercise Adherence and Sleep Improvement. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4341978/

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