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Exercise: Its Impact On Mood And Overall Mental Health

Today, there are many factors that greatly affect the overall physical and mental health of people. Lifestyle modifications are one of the ways in order to improve health and quality of life. These lifestyle modifications can significantly impact individuals dealing with serious mental illness. An essential component of lifestyle modification is exercise.

Years of research and evidence has shown that exercise has a wide range of physical benefits such as weight control, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of diabetes, improved energy consumption, and many more. However, many people still are not familiar that exercise can also significantly impact the psychological condition and overall mental health of humans. With that, there is really a shortage on the mental health benefits of exercise. So whether you need to go to the gym or just even take a few miles of walking, here are some of the positive impacts of exercise on your mood and mental health:

1. Improves Mood

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Physical activity such as doing brisk exercise daily has been shown to produce a significant positive impact on one’s mood. Several scientific surveys have been conducted in order to ask people to rate their mood immediately after periods of physical activity such as after going for a walk or doing housework, and compare it during times when they have relative periods of inactivity such as when they are reading a book or watching television. Findings have shown that the participants felt more content, more awake and calmer after being physically active compared to after periods of inactivity. Furthermore, research also shows that the effect of physical activity on mood was greatest when mood was initially low. Moreover, there are several studies looking at physical activity such as doing exercise at various levels of intensity and its impact on the mood of people. Overall, these studies have found that low-intensity aerobic exercise for 30 to 35 minutes, 3 to 5 days a week, for 10 to 12 weeks, was best at producing positive moods including increasing enthusiasm and alertness.

2. Decreases Stress

There are multiple different events in life that can occur that makes you feel threatened or upset which cause a different mental and biologic response. One of the ways the body protects itself from these threatening events is to create a stress response. This results in different uncomfortable physical symptoms that makes one behave differently. Other than that, you may also experience emotions more intensely which can further enhance the stress response. To explain further, the most common physical signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, and loss of appetite. Symptoms like these are triggered by a rush of stress hormones in our body which are otherwise known as the fight or flight response. Adrenaline and noradrenaline are the hormones responsible for such stress response. These two hormones also raise the blood pressure, increase the heart rate and increase the rate at which perspiration occurs. All of these changes prepare the body for an emergency response. Adrenaline and noradrenaline can also reduce blood flow to the skin and can reduce the gastrointestinal movement. On the other hand, another hormone, known as cortisol, is also released in response to a stressful event. This hormone is responsible for releasing fat and sugar into the system in order to provide energy to the body.

With that, another mental benefit of exercise is that it reduces stress levels. This results in a happier mood and overall better mental health. Studies have shown that increasing the heart rate can actually reverse stress-induced brain damage by increasing the production of neurohormones such as norepinephrine, which not only promote cognition and mood but also improve logical thinking that may be impaired due to stressful events. In addition to that, research has shown that exercise also promotes the communication between the body’s central and sympathetic nervous systems, which results in a more improved body’s overall ability to respond to stress. Hence, physical exercise can indeed be very effective in relieving stress. Lastly, studies conducted on adults have found that highly active individuals tend to have lower stress rates compared to individuals who are less active.

3. Aids in Fighting Against Depression and Anxiety

Exercise is a scientifically proven mood booster, decreasing symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Physical activity promotes the production of endorphins which are the body’s famous feel good hormones produced by the brain and spinal cord. Increasing the level of endorphins produces feelings of happiness and euphoria. Physical activity can be an alternative treatment for depression. Many studies claim that exercise can be utilized as a standalone treatment or in combination with medication and/or psychological therapy. Furthermore, studies show that physical activity such as doing exercise daily can significantly reduce levels of anxiety in people with mild symptoms and may also be helpful for treating clinical anxiety. Because exercise is available to all, has few costs attached, and is an empowering approach, it can be utilized as a method for self-management of depression and anxiety. Even just moderate exercise throughout the week can improve depression and anxiety, so much so that some doctors recommend trying out an exercise regimen for these conditions before turning to medication.

Furthemore, in 2015, there were only an average of only 65.5% of men and 54% of women who met the recommended physical activity levels. Many studies have linked this level to the possibility of an increased rate of depression and anxiety in the same year. Hence, with that, many health institutions are giving more education discussions on the importance of exercise. They also provide support on people who need to do more physical activities in order to achieve a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle. Lastly, most studies recommend that adults should aim to be active daily and complete at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity activity over a week. This is equivalent to 30 minutes, five times a week. This level has been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and also has been shown to produce better mood results in people.

4. Increases Self-esteem and Self-confidence

There is definitely no shortage of the physical achievements that come from regular exercise and diet. Exercise not only has a positive impact on our physical health, but it can also increase our self-esteem. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves and how we perceive our self-worth. It is a key indicator of our mental wellbeing and our ability to cope with life stressors. From improving endurance to losing weight and increasing muscle tone, exercise indeed gives a boost on your physical appearance. All these physical and mental achievements can all add up in order to significantly boost your self-esteem which gives you more confidence within yourself. Because of exercise, you not only achieve the body type you desire but you are also able to do more activities physically without having much difficulty. With that, physical activity such as doing exercise has been shown to have a positive influence on self-esteem and self-worth. This relationship has been found in children, adolescents, young adults, adults and older people, and across both males and females. Oftentimes it happens before you even realize it. It is just one of the many benefits of physical activity that boost your body, mind, and spirit.

5. Promotes Better Sleep

One of the ways in order to improve your mood and overall mental health is through having proper rest at night. So if you are one of those people who have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, then doing daily exercise might just be the solution for your problem. Studies have proven that physical activity such as exercise can increase the body temperature. This increase in the body temperature can have calming effects on the mind, resulting in less sheep counting and more shuteye. Exercise also helps in the regulation of the body’s circadian rhythm, which is considered as the body’s built-in alarm clock that controls sleep-wake cycle. It is also responsible for the alertness of the body. However, it must be noted that most experts do not recommend exercising close to bedtime because you may not fully reap the benefit of improved sleep if you do it at this time.

6. Fights Dementia and Cognitive Decline in Older People

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With recent technology, there have been significant improvements in healthcare that have led to an increasing life expectancy and a growing population of people over 65 years. However, because of this increase in life expectancy, it has also been observed that there is also an increase in the number of people dealing with age-related conditions such as people living with dementia and people with cognitive decline. Dementia is a type of medical condition where patients suffer with memory loss. It is considered as a progressive disease that results in people becoming more impaired after such time. Furthermore, decline in cognitive functions including decline in attention and concentration, also occurs in older people, including those who do not develop dementia. Studies have shown that physical activity such as exercise has a significant protective factor in people whose risk factors have been assessed and examined for dementia. Furthermore, exercise can aid in delaying further decline in functioning for people who have already developed the disease. In addition to that, research shows that there is approximately a 20% to 30% lower risk of depression and dementia for adults participating in daily and regular exercise. Moreover, in people who do not have dementia, physical activity also has been shown to decrease the likelihood of experiencing cognitive decline.

Furthermore, exercise also boosts brain power in various ways. Studies have shown that it has the capacity to improve intelligence and strengthen memory. Studies on mice and humans indicate that cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells through a process called neurogenesis, and hence improve overall brain performance. Also, studies have proven that exercise prevents cognitive decline and memory loss through strengthening the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Studies also prove that physical activity boosts creativity and mental energy. With all of these, it can aid in fighting and preventing age-related diseases such as dementia and cognitive decline.

In conclusion, it is really beneficial for your mood and overall mental health if you become more physically active. Hence, if you have a sedentary lifestyle, then it is certain that you must begin a more active lifestyle in order to reap a wide range of health benefits. With that, you can start by doing home workouts or enrolling in a commercial gym. It can be a bit scary making changes to your life, and most people get anxious about trying something new. However, practical and emotional support from friends, family and experts really does help in order for you to achieve a more healthy and active lifestyle. So what are you waiting for? Go out there, exercise, and see how it can significantly improve your mood and overall mental health.

1. Charles, S. Walden University. 2019. 5 Mental Benefits of Exercise. Retrieved from: https://www.waldenu.edu/online-bachelors-programs/bs-in-psychology/resource/five-mental-benefits-of-exercise. Retrieved on 4 August 2020.
2. Dunn, A. L., and Jewell, J. S. 2010. The Effect of Exercise on Mental Health, Current Sports Medicine. Volume 9 – Issue 4 – p 202-207. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e3181e7d9af
3. Mental Health Foundation. 2020. How to look after your mental health using exercise. Retrieved from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise. Retrieved on 4 August 2020.
4. Sharma A, Madaan V, Petty FD. Exercise for mental health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8(2):106. doi:10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
5. Spraul, T. Exercise. 2018. How Does Exercise Affect Your Mind And Mood?. Retrieved from: https://www.exercise.com/learn/how-does-exercise-affect-your-mind-and-mood/. Retrieved on 4 August 2020.

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