When it comes to exercise, much of the discussion centers around how it impacts your physical health. As we close out the month of May, I’d like to shift our focus to discuss how exercise benefits your mental health. After all, a healthy mind paired with a healthy body makes for an unstoppable person!
Nearly 1 in 5 people experience mental illness in a given year. The cost to directly treat mental illness is $55 Billion. However, indirect costs including lost productivity, accidents and social welfare programs push the cost to around $273 Billion. $70 billion of that is attributed to treating undiagnosed mental illness, including emergency room primary care doctor visits.
The challenge of treating mental illness is furthered by the fact society views mental illness negatively. Under these conditions, a person is less likely to seek help which only perpetuates the cycle. Just as physical activity is linked to reduced risk in several forms of cancers, evidence suggests it can have a positive effect on mental health.
We typically frame our conversations about exercise around its benefits to the body. However exercise provides a host of benefits to the brain as well. These benefits include changes in the following:
Endorphins – This chemical is associated with positive feelings. A “runners high” is an example of such a feeling. As a result you may also have a positive outlook on life and improved self-esteem during these moments.
Serotonin – A neurotransmitter that communicates between areas of the brain. Low serotonin production is associated with depression.
Dopamine – A neuro transmitter that regulates the body’s reward and pleasure centers. It plays a role in habit formation, either good or bad.
BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) – A protein that helps regulate brain function. In studies with people suffering from major depression, levels of BDNF are found to be low.
Glutamate and GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) – Glutamate is a stimulating transmitter and GABA is an inhibitory transmitter. Imbalances in these transmitters can lead to depression.
Because the physiological impact on the brain is so powerful, exercise offers the ability to positively impact your mood and overall outlook. Here’s what happens to when you exercise:
1. Stress Reduction: Exercise is a good stress (eustress) on the body that helps to balance out the effects of negative stressors. Whether it’s a bad day at work or an argument with a loved one, use exercise as a tool to clear your mind and relieve stress.
2. Boost Serotonin, Dopamine and Endorphins: As we mentioned above, exercise offers the ability to boost these mood altering chemicals. As this occurs, a positive outlook follows.
3. Improve Self-confidence: When you exercise you achieve feelings of accomplishment and increased self-worth. Exercise also helps us to see ourselves as more attractive.
4. Increase Brain Function: Not only does your thinking become clearer, but your memory becomes sharper as well. You may also find that you’re more creative when you add regular exercise to your schedule.
5. Feel more relaxed: Using a hard workout as an outlet for pent up anxiety and stress can help you sleep better. Moderate forms of exercise like Yoga are great for aiding in relaxation and mindfulness.
We have no shortage of ways in which we can exercise. Ultimately, picking something you can do consistently is the best place to start. With that said, here are some ideas:
Strength training: The benefits of strength training are well documented. It’s the best way to reshape your body, which leads to a more positive view of oneself.
Endurance training: I’ll admit, there’s a sense of accomplishment that goes a long with completing a long endurance event. Plus, what better way to get that “runner’s high”?
Play: Get out and run around. No rules, no structure. Kids are the happiest people I know. Kids play a lot.
Sports: Join a league. Softball, basketball, flag football, kickball – whatever suits you. The camaraderie that flows from team sports is hard to recreate anywhere else. I find that having a competitive outlet also serves as a great stress reliever.
Yoga: A great relaxation activity, that helps to build the bridge between your mind and body. Yoga is perfect for becoming more focused and mindful.
Exercise is a powerful tool that we can utilize in the pursuit of both a healthy body and a healthy mind. During exercise I’m very focused on the task at hand, which helps to provide focus and clarity in other areas of my life. If you’d like to exercise more, but are unsure about where to start, contact us today to join the Vitalifit Coaching Program that is right for you.