Most people have heard about exercise’s positive effects on mental health. Nevertheless, many still do not get enough physical activity, missing these benefits. From strengthening the muscles to relieving anxiety, exercising has myriad benefits. Here are several reasons why it affects mental health positively.
Neurotransmitters are released in response to changing physical conditions, sending chemical signals. The body’s endorphin system is most commonly activated by strenuous physical activity. However, endocannabinoids also enter the bloodstream while you are active.
1. Stimulates Neurotransmitter Release
Endorphins’ primary mechanism of action is to block pain and increase pleasure. Notably, science has shown that circulating endorphin levels increase following exercise. In addition, the combination of endorphins and endocannabinoids contributes to exercise-induced euphoria.
Dopamine is another exercise-related neurotransmitter with impactful bodily effects. Dopamine’s diverse actions are hard to quantify, from heartbeat regulation to motivation. Still, it is evident that exercise stimulates dopaminergic neurotransmission. Yet, more research must be done to determine what exercises stimulate it most.
2. Promotes Neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s inborn ability to change, responding to external stimuli. However, humans are born with a single set of neurons, the network throughout life.
Likewise, these changes relate to learning skills, activities, and languages. Nonetheless, depressed individuals exhibit signs of decreased plasticity. Exercise induces neuroplastic behavior, enhancing certain signaling factors.
When exerting yourself, the heart starts beating faster, pumping O2 through the veins. As a result, more oxygen is delivered to the brain, promoting executive function. Meanwhile, this leads to direct improvements in working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control.
Researchers looked at 48 adults with mild cognitive impairment in 2021. What they noticed was increased oxygen perfusion of the cerebrum. Since it is the brain’s biggest part, it controls intellectual function and coordination. By following an exercise regimen for one year, cerebral blood flow was increased. It is thought that this will decrease the risk of cognitive declines, such as Alzheimer’s.
3. Beneficial to Self-Confidence
If you have not been happy with your weight, exercise can help improve those feelings. The research noted regular exercise could contribute to improved body image, benefitting self-compassion. Similarly, these effects may improve someone’s self-esteem, boosting their confidence.
Plus, it is hard to feel bad when you notice your waistline has shrunk, letting you fit in new clothes. Meanwhile, another study found a direct impact on negative thinking related to exercise. When getting regular physical activity, people reported fewer negative thought patterns. Thus, they were less likely to feel down, helping alleviate mild depression. You will look great and feel confident in new clothes.
4. Exercise Improves Energy Levels
Often, depressive patients exhibit reduced energy levels, making daily life difficult. Nonetheless, vigorous exercise may ameliorate some of these difficulties. For example, a study discovered that six weeks of regular exercise diminished fatigue. Also, fatigue reduction was noted in people with chronic fatigue syndrome following exercise. Better yet, these effects were notably more effective than passive therapies, like relaxation. In addition, they produced more powerful relief than resting in patients with CFS.
Additionally, exercise’s effects on the cardiovascular system are pervasive, systemic, and profound. Improving somebody’s cardiovascular health can boost their natural energy levels. After exercising for a while, the lung’s ability to deliver oxygen is boosted. Therefore, it requires less energy to receive the same amount throughout the body. By reducing the energy necessary to deliver O2, activity feels less exhausting.
5. Lessens Anxiety and Stress
Exercise-induced reductions in anxiety, stress and depression are well known. Besides relieving these conditions, exercise may help treat other co-occurring disorders, like IBS.
Plus, exercise stimulates neurogenesis in key brain regions, such as the hippocampus. Thus, new neuron growth may be responsible for some of exercise’s depression-alleviating effects. Moreover, it can be related to its impact on similar psychiatric conditions. Animal models have shown that neuron growth can play a calming role during stress. So, by getting more physical activity, you can expect to feel calmer over time.
How Regular Exercise Benefits Mental Health
From alleviating depression to reducing inflammation, exercise benefits people in many ways. Fortunately, you can start at home, and it does not cost anything. So, there is hardly an excuse to avoid exercising, especially if you are overweight.
Author: Maggie Bloom. Maggie graduated from Utah Valley University with a degree in communication and writing. In her spare time, she loves to dance, read, and bake. She also enjoys traveling and scouting out new brunch locations.