How Exercise Affects Our Health and Wellbeing
We should all ask ourselves: “How often do I exercise?” The fact is, physical inactivity can contribute to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and many other health conditions. But, it turns out that exercise may also affect our mental health.
In fact, most of us have probably noticed that a trip to the gym or a short walk in the park improves our mood temporarily.
It is known that exercise increases the production of the feel-good hormones enkephalins and endorphins which make problems seem more manageable.
By focusing your attention on exercise, you take a pause from your current worries and damaging self-talk. Other benefits of exercise include increased energy, relaxation and calmness, improved social interactions, elevated mood, and improved health.
Evidence suggests that exercise is not only vital for maintaining good mental health, but also for treating chronic mental illnesses. It helps reduce the risk of depression and maintains optimal mental health as you age.
It turns out it’s excellent for treating anxiety, dementia, and depression, and also for decreasing cognitive problems in schizophrenia.
How Does Exercise Do This?
The first thing to remember is that exercise affects your brain. Exercising on a regular basis increases the volume of specific areas of the brain.
It does this by improving the blood supply which enhances neuronal health (nerve cells) by providing a better delivery of nutrients and oxygen.
Also, by increasing the neurotrophic factors and neurohormones which help the neuron’s growth, signaling, and connection.
The brain’s region responsible for learning, memory, and regulation of emotions is called the hippocampus. That’s why the hippocampus is vital for your mental health.
An animal study published in the Journal of Psychology shows that exercise stimulates neurogenesis – helps build new hippocampal neurons. And, preliminary studies suggest that this can also apply to people.
Researchers believe that many health conditions are linked to poor neurogenesis in the hippocampus, especially depression. It turns out many anti-depressants don’t improve neurogenesis in the hippocampus.
According to some theories, newly formed hippocampal neurons are probably crucial for storing new memories, as well as for keeping new and old memories separated.
This means that the creation of new hippocampal neurons allows using the existing memories in a healthy, flexible way, and flexible processing of new information.
In fact, poor mental health is linked to cognitive inflexibility which restricts the person’s ability to acknowledge or process new information, repeats their unhelpful behavior, and decreases their ability to use what they already know to solve problems or change.
By improving the capacity for mental flexibility, exercise is believed to help improve mental health.
How Much Exercise?
According to Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, a psychiatrist, doing at least 3 sessions of resistance training or aerobic exercise per week, for 45-60 minutes per session, could help the treatment of chronic depression.
Usually, the neurogenesis takes about 4 weeks which is exactly how long it takes for the effects to be noticed. For the best anti-depressant effects, the training should last for 10 to 12 weeks.
Exercising less than this amount is still beneficial, and you can notice increased energy, weight loss, improved physical health, and better mood and skin.
Do you think one day exercise could replace the medication for chronic mental health disorders?