Exercise: good for the body and mind

Posted on May 1, 2015 by Brynna Gabrielson

Exercise: good for the body and mind

We all know that exercise is good for us. It makes our bodies stronger, it contributes to weight loss, it betters our general health, and it helps us live longer. However, the benefits of exercise go beyond just the physical. Exercising can play an important part in the prevention and management of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress.

Studies focusing on exercise and the treatment of depression in particular have shown definitively for years that exercise can have similar effects as anti-depressants. For example, one study divided depressive patients into four groups - one group performed home based exercise, one performed supervised exercise, one took anti-depressants, and one was placed on a placebo pill. At the end of four months the study found that those in groups who engaged in physical activity or took the anti-depressants had much higher rates of remission when compared to the placebo group1.

One of the reasons that we feel good after exercising is that when we engage in physical activity our brains release endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that are responsible for dulling pain and producing feelings of euphoria - ultimately leading to improved mood. Why does exercise cause our brains to release these handy transmitters? Essentially exercise is putting stress on our bodies, and in response to this stress our brains release the endorphins to block the discomfort2.

Aside from its anti-depressive effects, exercise is also important when it comes to managing stress and anxiety. Second to depression, anxiety is one of the most reported mental health issues in the country, and more and more people in the UK are dealing with increased stress - according to Anxiety UK more than a quarter of working people have taken time off due to it3

When we're feeling stressed or anxious our bodies slip into a fight-or-flight mode which causes us to produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can result in symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, etc. Exercise helps our bodies reduce the amount of adrenaline and cortisol in our systems4, which reduces and eases our stress and anxiety.

On top of the 'chemical' benefits of exercise, there are plenty of other ways that exercising can benefit mental wellbeing. For those overwhelmed with stress, it's a great way to turn off your mind and focus on one thing. Additionally, as you exercise more, your body will become stronger and fitter, likely leading to an increase in self esteem. As self esteem is associated with both depression and anxiety5, this is a good reason to hit the gym when you're feeling down. Exercise also leads to increased levels of energy, and better sleep6.  

So the next time you're weighing the benefits of going for a run or watching TV, put on your trainers and hit the road. You'll definitely feel better for it!

Mental Health Awareness Week helps to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues to educate the wider public and break the stigma. Simplyhealth is supporting this awareness drive throughout May. Learn more about Mental Health Awareness Week.

Sources:

1. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise
2. https://blog.bufferapp.com/why-exercising-makes-us-happier
3. https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/about-anxiety/anxiety-disorder-and-stress/stress
4. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax
5. http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth/pages/dealingwithlowself-esteem
6. http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk//mental-health-a-z/E/exercise-mental-health

Back