Today it’s well known that exercise and regular physical activity activity acts as some of the best preventative health measures you can take. A healthy lifestyle combats the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and so many more diseases and ailments. But, considering your mental health is just as important as your physical health one may wonder if exercise could have or has the same positive effects for the mind.
We must take mental health seriously, as today rates of depression and anxiety are at their highest recorded levels ever in countries from here in the U.S. all the way to China. Perhaps this is due to the many negative aspects of modern life. Sedentary lifestyles, poor diets, and social isolation are all a part of our “more connected modern world.” Perhaps the lack of exercise is causing these issues.
Think about it, when you take a walk in the sun how do you feel? Pleasant right? Calm. Could it be the atmosphere, the comfort of your neighborhood, or is it something more?
It is well known that exercise stimulates the body’s production of endorphins and enkephalins. These feel-good hormones essentially ease your mind. They help one focus on something other than constant concerns, harmful self talk, and stress. You can just be in your environment and focus on that. Extrospective thinking.
“Well, that’s just short term relief,” you may be thinking. This is true, but if someone suffering from depression regularly exercises they may discover long term relief.
Exercise and Depression: The Facts
More and more evidence suggests that exercise can in fact treat chronic mental illness. In fact, a paper published in the American Journal of Psychiatry revealed that just one hour of exercise a week may help prevent depression.
The study followed more than 22,000 healthy Norweigian adults without any symptoms of anxiety or depression for an average of 11 years. Along the way the researchers asking the participants about their exercise habits and about any symptoms of depression and anxiety.
In the beginning of the study around 12% said they didn’t exercise and the rest said anywhere from 30 minutes to more than 4 hours a week.
Over the course of a decade about 7% of the people in the study developed depression and about 9% developed anxiety. There was no link found between exercise and anxiety but the researchers did find a link between exercise and depression.
Those who said they didn’t exercise at the beginning of the study were 44% more likely to become depressed. While the study couldn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship between exercise and depression, the researchers say it strongly suggests one. We agree, and if their hypothesis is correct 12% of depression cases could be prevented with just one hour of exercise a week.
The big takeaway here is that exercise directly affects the brain.
More Physical Activity Effects
- Stress Relief
Increasing your heart rate can reverse stress by stimulating the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine. Hormones like this and others don’t just improve mood, but they can improve thinking by declouding the brain. Exercise forces the body’s nervous systems to communicate with one another, this improves the overall ability to respond to and manage stress.
- Boosted Self-Esteem
While it’s not a pretty thing, it’s an unfortunate truth: self esteem is often linked to body image. Exercise is of course going to improve body image and with that usually comes improved self-esteem. From improving endurance to losing weight and increasing muscle tone you will feel and see improvements in your body. These alone will give you a boost, but the fact that you’ll be achieving goals will also give you a mental boost. Exercise is going to give you a boost across the board, and you don’t have to go to the gym for three hours a day, even a short walk everyday can make a big difference!
- Better Sleep
If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, exercise can actually help with that too. Remember, sleep is of the utmost importance to mental health. Dreaming and rest have restorative powers, our brain needs them to function properly during waking hours. Did you know that just increasing your body temperature from exercise can help soothe the mind? This will help your body relax when you lay down, and of course you’ll be pretty worn out too. When we’re in bed we tend to spend a lot of time over analyzing issues and stressors which just leads to more of both. Getting to sleep before that has a chance to happen is ideal. If you can beat it, cheat it. Beware though, experts don’t recommend exercising too close to bedtime.
- Flexing the Brain
Think of the brain as a muscle. The more you work it the stronger it gets. While many suggest brain teasers, puzzles, and the like, physical exercise can actually stimulate brain growth very effectively. Studies have found that exercise creates new brain cells, this is called neurogenesis. This process improves overall brain performance. It also prevents cognitive decline with age such as memory loss.
- More Energy Overall
Increasing your heart rate regularly will give you more energy overall. Your body starts to get acclimated to the change and responds by allocating resources towards it. Exercise isn’t meant to wear you out it’s meant to give you a little pep. It’s natures pick me up, you’re telling your body that it’s time to get up and go every time you increase your heart rate from exercise.
How Can I Get Exercise?
Remember, the most important thing is to start slow. You don’t have to exert yourself nor should you. The best plan of action is starting with some walking. Take a walk around the neighborhood everyday after work. It’s a great way to get not only exercise, but some fresh air. The goal is about 45 minutes to an hour a day. This can be intense work or leisure activities. As long as you’re getting that heart rate up you’re doing it right.
For more questions about depression and how it’s being treated contact us.