The Connection Between Exercise and Mental Health


The Connection Between Exercise and Mental Health

About Exercise & Mental Health

We know that regular physical activity can help us lose weight by burning fat and strengthening our muscles, but how does exercise affect the brain?

In this post, we’ll examine the connection between exercise and the mind, discuss what happens chemically to our brains when we’re physically active; learn how much exercise is needed to produce positive results; and explore the link between exercise and depression. We’ll also share where to seek care at WWMG should you wish to make an appointment.

What is the link between exercise and brain chemistry?

Exercise stimulates blood flow to the brain because your heart rate increases with your movements. This exposes the brain to more nutrients and more oxygen, as well as releasing proteins called neurons, which help keep the cells in the brain healthy. That neural growth can also help improve your short- and long-term memory, and provide you with a greater ability to focus on tasks.

What chemical processes in the brain happen during exercise?

When you’re physically active, your body releases chemicals into the brain such as dopamine and endorphins. These “feel-good” chemicals are known for providing a rush of happiness because they help your brain release the chemicals that cause stress and anxiety. They also provide you with energy by making you feel more alert, and reduce inflammation, thereby acting as natural pain relievers. Finally, research indicates they may also help strengthen your immune system.

How much exercise can produce positive results?

If you’re worried you’d need to live at the gym to get the brain chemistry benefits mentioned above, don’t! It only takes 30 minutes five times per week to see positive results from working out. Moderate levels of exercise are just fine too—low impact swimming, water aerobics, walking and yoga all elevate your heart rate enough to get the benefits. Of course, traditional cardio activities like running, jump roping, interval training and bike riding can also yield positive results in a short amount of time.

Plus, you don’t have to exercise for long durations of time to be effective. Short intervals of 5 – 10 minutes of movement throughout the day to total that 30-minute minimum will produce enough chemicals to benefit your brain.

What is the link between exercise and depression?

Those who suffer from depression may be prescribed antidepressants to help boost or regulate their mood. An alternative to medicine that many holistic doctors prescribe to combat depression is regular exercise. This is because the results can be very similar.

Biologically, when you exercise and your nerve cells in the brain grow and create new connections, that supports nerve cell growth in your hippocampus. This area of the brain regulates moods and is known to be typically smaller in those who suffer from depression. Any increase in size is believed to help fight depression.

Additionally, those who exercise regularly have a better likelihood of undisturbed sleep. That deep rest for the body helps repair cells and reduces irritability, thus contributing to better overall moods.

There can also be negative (albeit unfair) stigmas associated with taking medicine for depression, which can deter patients from establishing a healing regimen because they fear for social ramifications. Exercise offers an opportunity for true physical and mental benefits, free from these issues.

Schedule an Appointment

If you suffer from depression, anxiety, insomnia or other issues, we recommend discussing your exercise and mental health with a WWMG Primary Care provider at one of our convenient locations. Our WWMG Psychology team can also help. They provide neuropsychological and clinical psychological evaluations, in addition to individual, family and couples counseling. To schedule an appointment, please fill out the form on this page. For more general information, complete this contact form.