We have all heard that exercise is good for our physical health, but did you know that exercise can also provide significant mental health benefits?
Research has shown that usually five minutes after moderate exercise there is a mood enhancement effect. Exercise has proven to be a powerful intervention for treating depression and anxiety, and preventing relapse. Researchers suspect that exercise can alleviate some chronic depression by increasing serotonin, the neurotransmitter targeted by antidepressants, and helping to normalize sleep which is known to have protective effects on the brain. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in the brain that reduce your perception of pain, and trigger feelings of happiness and euphoria that can lead to a more energizing outlook on life.
A few specific benefits of exercise are: less tension, stress, and mental fatigue; a natural energy boost; a sense of achievement; better focus and motivation; less anger or frustration; and a healthy appetite. Leading an active life can help to improve feelings of self-worth and foster confidence. Exercise and a healthy diet can also help shore up the brain against cognitive decline that begins after age 45. Working out, especially between the ages 25 and 45, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning.
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or stress, start getting active today. It can sometimes seem overwhelming to start an exercise program, especially if you’re feeling fatigue from mild depression. Start small—perhaps just a 20 minute walk every day. Then steadily build to incorporate more cardio and, ideally, strength training as well. Try not to think of exercise as another chore you must accomplish, but valuable time for self-care.
For those suffering with symptoms of moderate to severe depression, exercise can be one part of a treatment program including psychotherapy and medication to make life changes. Contact your mental health professional at Pike Creek Psychological Center to discuss how you can start feeling better today.