The Consequential Link Between Mental Health and Exercise

The benefits of exercise stem far beyond being physically healthy. In fact, exercise has been proven to have a pivotal role in reducing mental health symptoms.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 1 in 5 adults are affected by an anxiety disorder in the United States and Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability of those aged 15 to 44.3.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness found that a staggering 60 percent of American adults, and almost half of children ages 8-15, receive no treatment for their mental health diagnosis.

Exercise plays a pivotal role in reducing mental health symptoms.

It is abundantly clear that mental illness does not discriminate based on ethnicity, race, economic status, religion, or age group. However, exercise is a universal, easily accessible treatment that most can take advantage of.

A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that just one hour of exercise a week may help prevent depression. The study followed 22,000 healthy Norwegian adults without symptoms of anxiety or depression over the course of about 11 years. Those who began the study stating they did not exercise were 44 percent more likely to become depressed, compared to those who exercised at least 1 to 2 hours a week.

Along with alleviating the symptoms of depression and anxiety, studies show exercise helps eating disorders, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, addictions, grief, relationship problems, dementia, and personality disorders. Additionally, exercise eases conditions such as bad moods, stress, chronic pain, and chronic illness. While exercise can lessen the symptoms of mental illnesses, a doctor should still be consulted if you believe you suffer from one of these conditions.

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, let us take a look at the ways exercise can improve your mental health.

Reduces stress hormones and increases endorphins

Endorphins, or the body’s feel-good hormones, are released when you exercise. Exercising triggers your body to release endorphins, in turn, making you feel happier and less stressed. While your body releases endorphins, it is simultaneously reducing your stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.

Improves your mood

Regular exercise can help you relax, improve your sleep, increase your self-confidence, and relieve some of the symptoms associated with depression and anxiety, all of which lower your stress levels. You can feel the effects of an improved mood just five minutes after moderate exercise.

Improve memory, thinking skills

Mental health also includes brain conditions that may develop as we age. Researchers say one new case of dementia is detected every four seconds globally. Exercise reduces the risk of developing dementia based on cardiovascular illness. It helps both directly and indirectly. Directly, exercise reduces insulin resistance, inflammation, and stimulates the release of growth factors, chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells. Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, which reduces stress and anxiety.

A study done at the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the area in the brain involved in verbal memory and learning. Resistance training, balance and muscle toning did not yield the same results.

Additionally, studies suggest that the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex – the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory – have a greater volume in people who exercise compared to those that do not.

Increased hippocampal health

Chicken breast is the obvious lean-muscle-building food, and for good reason. A 3-ounce serving of chicken breast contains about 26 grams of high-quality protein, as well as generous amounts of the B vitamins niacin and B6, which help the body function properly during physical activity and exercise.
All of our clubs carry chicken-based, healthy, grab-and-go meals. Try out our Chicken Asian Wrap, containing 38.8 grams of protein, our Chicken Tacos, containing 64.6 grams of protein, or our Grilled Honey Sesame Chicken Breast, containing 58.6 grams of protein.

Improves sleep

Although not a food, protein powder undoubtedly adds essential muscle-creating nutrients – when paired with healthy, whole foods – to your diet. Protein reduces appetite, increases feelings of fullness, increases metabolic rate and protects muscle mass during weight loss. All of our clubs offer whey protein powders to aid in building and repairing lean muscle and giving you long-lasting energy throughout the day.

Sleep is hard to come by when your mind is racing. Your body could be screaming for sleep while your mind does continuous laps. Exercise improves and normalizes your sleep schedule, which has protective effects on the brain. Specifically, it regulates your circadian cycle, helping you fall asleep more quickly and improving your sleep quality.

However, do not exercise too close to sleeping, as exercise releases hormones such as endorphins that can create additional activity in the brain. Exercise also increases your core temperature. Elevation in core temperature tells the body it’s time to be awake.

Engaging in just 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise may trigger a change in sleep quality as soon as that night, according to John Hopkins Medicine.

On the flip side, lack of exercise may negatively affect your mental health by

Increasing the risks of dementia and depression

While we know that exercise can decrease the risk of and even relieve symptoms of dementia and depression, a lack of exercise may cause these conditions. According to evidence presented at the British Nutrition Foundation conference, a person’s risk of becoming depressed is doubled if they are inactive.

Negatively impacting your self-image

If you are not happy with the way your body looks and feels it can negatively impact your mental health.

Causing your mood to plummet

Studies suggest that cardio can be just as effective at boosting your mood as prescription antidepressants. So you miss out on the influx of these mood boosters when you skip the workout.

Decreasing your ability to concentrate

A review of research published in the British Medical Journal concludes that even short bursts of exercise – 10 to 40 minutes – lead to an immediate boost in concentration. The boost can be partly attributed to increased blood flow to your brain and increased levels of chemicals in your blood, like endorphins, that keep your brain alert.

No worthwhile, long-lasting mental health fix comes overnight. Three or more sessions per week of aerobic exercise or resistance training, at 45 to 60 minutes per session, will benefit your mental health. Full effects will most likely be noticed after about four weeks and should be continued for at least 10 to 12 weeks for the greatest effects. Additionally, just five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

If you believe you suffer from a mental health condition, speak to your doctor.