We’ve all heard the gurus and health experts talking about using exercise as a helpful tool for improving and managing mental health, but does it really do anything? Exercise can have numerous effects on both the body and mind and in this article, we’ll show you just how it can help with your mental health.
Whether you’re suffering from a mental health condition, or just need a boost in your overall mental health, exercise can help. Leave existential dread and depressive thoughts behind and head to the gym!
Mental Illness is a Serious Problem in the US
It’s estimated that one in five US adults suffers from some kind of mental illness (or mental health condition, as they’re commonly referred to). Anxiety disorders like major depression, PTSD, and even OCD make up the bulk of mental health conditions in US adults, affecting around 40 million people every year.
If you’ve ever struggled with mental health, or know someone who has, you know that it’s often an uphill battle. It’s not easy to get your mind back on track, but there are many tools at your disposal, including exercise, that can help.
The Science of Mental Health
Often, mental health conditions boil down to one crucial factor: a chemical imbalance in the brain. This imbalance can cause neurons to communicate in a way that’s both ineffective and harmful to regular brain activity, causing some of the common symptoms associated with mental health conditions.
Chemicals and hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and adrenaline are subject to fluctuations based on internal and external factors, as well as genetic factors. Imbalances in these crucial brain chemicals can cause mental health disorders, and while science is still trying to discover more about mental illness, the research has come a long way in the last few decades.
We know more about mental health conditions than ever, but for all of our knowledge, there still seems to be an epidemic at hand. This is probably due to the massive amount of stigma associated with mental health and the lack of resources available to victims.
The Science of Exercise
It’s no secret that exercise is beneficial to both mental and physical health, but why is that so? Moving your body not only helps improve blood flow to vital organs (like the brain, for instance), but it can also help release hormones and important chemicals in the body that help maintain balance.
Exercise has also been found to stimulate something called neurogenesis, which is the regrowing of brain and nerve cells. This is particularly exciting because neurogenesis can help improve memory and has been linked to managing depression and other mental health conditions.
Exercise can also help increase your self-esteem and confidence. Lack thereof is a common symptom of conditions like depression. When you’re depressed, you view yourself through a lens of criticism and even self-loathing if the condition is severe enough. Exercise also releases serotonin and dopamine, which can boost your overall mood and give you more energy.
Improving Mental Health
Let’s say you’re suffering from depression. A good friend has convinced you to start going to the gym with him, despite your (very vocal) objections. Your depression makes you want to stay inside, isolated from everyone else. Let’s look at some of the benefits that come from going to the gym with your friend instead:
- You’re getting out of the house. This is necessary for mental health, as isolating yourself can become problematic. Humans are social creatures.
- You’re getting exercise, which can lift your mood, improve your self-image, stimulate neurogenesis, and even help re-balance your brain chemistry and reduce stress hormones like cortisol.
- You’ll have something to be proud of.
It’s incredibly difficult to ignore that depressive voice in the back of your head, especially when it’s been in control for so long; but if you start exercising on a regular basis, you’ll find that a change begins to develop in your overall mood and self-image.
That’s not to say that exercise is the cure-all for mental illness, but in combination with clinical treatment, self-care, and education, regular exercise becomes a crucial component to a healthy mind and body.
You don’t have to go to the gym to exercise, either. You can do at-home exercises with no equipment, purchase your own workout equipment, or just go for a run, hike, or bike ride. As long as your body is in motion, you’re doing great!
Everything about exercise is good for the human mind and body. Don’t overdo it, of course, but when you fall into a regular exercise routine, the benefits are numerous and effective at helping improve mental health. When the body and mind are both happy, you’ll lead a more fulfilling life overall. Now that you’re done reading, get out there and move!