How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health?

How Does Exercise Improve Mental Health?

Exercise offers a variety of health benefits, including a potentially significant impact on your mental health. Its mental benefits are both acute, meaning it can help you feel immediately better after a particularly stressful day, and chronic, because it can help you combat chronic depression. Exercise improves your mental health through a variety of physiological and psychological effects: It increases the release of happy-causing chemicals, trains your body to handle stressful situations, improves sleep and builds confidence and self-worth.

Increases Release of Endorphins, Seratonin
Exercise has been shown to increase the release of endorphins and seratonin, two chemicals that have a positive affect on your mood. Endorphins are neuropeptides produced by the central nervous system, and they decrease our feelings of pain, produce a euphoric sensation and strengthen our immune response. Seratonin is the neurotransmitter that’s targeted by antidepressants. Its increased release might boost exercise’s capability to alleviate chronic depression.

Toughens You Up
Exercise can be effective at decreasing anxiety because it helps train the physiological responses that occur during stress to become more adept. As a result, your body is better able to handle and respond to stressful situations. When you exercise, your heart and breathing rate increases, and you experience a significant increase in perspiration. These physical reactions are similar to how your body reacts when you’re stressed. According to Dr. Jasper Smits at the Anxiety Research and Treatment Program at Southern Methodist University, regular exercise may simply make you less likely to panic during stress because your body and brain have become more efficient at handling those types of situations.

Normalizes Sleep
More and better sleep, a result of regular exercise, can improve mental health. Regular participation in exercise has been shown to decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, and therefore to increase total sleep time. In addition, it increases the duration of slow wave sleep, the stage most beneficial for body repair and maintenance, and decreases the duration of rapid-eye movement sleep, the more restless stage and when dreaming occurs. Getting enough quality sleep decreases the risk of anxiety and depression. In addition, a 2006 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that children ages 6 to 15 who had sleeping problems were more likely to experience hyperactivity and inattention and to be impulsive, which suggests that better sleep might have the potential for decreasing the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Further, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that improving the quality of sleep might help curb mood swings and shifts in energy that are caused by bipolar disorder.

Other Possible Contributions
Regular exercise may also improve mental health because it gives you a sense of accomplishment when you’re participating in a meaningful activity. When you’re consistent with your training, you’re proud of your efforts and discipline. Exercise can also serve as a distraction, as you focus on your training session rather than the presence of a stressful situation. In addition, because it helps lower body fat and increase lean muscle, exercise can boost confidence.