Exercise and Mental Health
Exercise, the dreaded word that occupies everyone's New Year's resolution. There are many reasons not to exercise, ranging from “I have no time” or “I don’t know where to start”. While there are many excuses not to exercise, there is a major benefit that is often overlooked besides weight loss. Mental health has become more important to our society in a good way and one of the simplest ways to improve our mental health is to exercise. The two biggest mental health diagnoses that improve with exercise are anxiety and depression. When people are suffering from these ailments, the last thing that they usually want to do is to exercise. However, by doing so the improvement can sometimes be dramatic.
The first way we see an improvement in patients who exercise is a natural response through the release of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones released during exercise that can relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve mood. They stimulate the opioid receptors in our brain and overall make us feel good.
A second way we see improvement in patients through exercise is occupation of the mind. In disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, people's minds are constantly worrying and stressing about various subjects. If we are focused on our exercising during workouts, it gives the mind a break. Even this brief interruption of anxiety can be a relief and allow the brain to reap the benefits of the endorphin release.
Stress release can be hard to come by. Exercise is not only a great way to release stress, but it also has positive impacts on our lives. Benefits can include increased energy, improved body composition, decreased blood pressure, increased confidence, and lastly feeling better overall.
How can I start? The simplest way is to go for a walk. Not only will you be exercising, but you will benefit from sun exposure, which leads to increased vitamin D. This also improves mood, but that is a topic for another post. Three to four times per week for approximately 15-30 minutes is an excellent starting point. Other ways to incorporate exercise throughout the day is by spreading out your work. For example, every time you send a text, do two air squats or pushups. You will be amazed at the number of repetitions performed over the course of the day.
Improved mood, decreased anxiety, what are you waiting for? You can do this, and by incorporating exercise into your lifestyle, you will be amazed at the benefits to your mental health! There will always be a reason not to do something, but the benefit of exercise will far outweigh the inconvenience.
Quinn P. Walkley, PMHNP