Fit & Fabulous
Fit & Fabulous

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

by Marlene Affeld about a year ago in fitness

Use it, or lose it!

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
Unsplash - Sarah [email protected]

Our brains are physical organs. Just like our lungs, heart, bones, and muscles benefit from regular physical activity, research confirms exercise triggers a flood of chemicals that affect positive changes in the brain. Medical research studies indicate that persons who do not participate in regular exercise have an increased likelihood of experiencing chronic depression, memory loss, social apathy, and Alzheimer’s disease.

If the name “couch potato” fits, you likely do not currently exercise on a regular basis and are not active throughout the day. Whether to exercise or not is a personal choice. However, if you want to sit on your butt like a “lump of lard” you are opting to live a life of discomfort, running the risk of developing cancer or diabetes or dying prematurely due to a stroke or heart attack.

Exercise is a safety value, a constructive method of releasing pent-up emotional stress and physical energy. Exercise is proven to reduce production of hormones that act as messengers of stress, thereby reducing stress-related emotions including tension, depression, anxiety, anger, depression and aggression. An action as simple as taking a walk can help relieve stress, improve your mood, relax muscle tension, and brighten your mental outlook.

Exercise promotes physical fitness, improves self-esteem, boosts confidence, increases cognitive and spatial learning, gives us more energy and endurance and just plain makes us feel good. Moreover, regular physical activity can lower health inhibiting triglycerides, raise HDL cholesterol, and when increased physical activity results in weight loss, a regime of regular exercise reduces the risk of a diverse array of other chronic diseases including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and some cancers.

Obviously, if physical fitness promotes optimum health, a sedentary lifestyle does just the opposite. Inactivity can lead to weight gain and life-threatening health issues; “Think of exercise as free medicine without the side effects.”

Getting Started

If exercise is not now a part of your life, any physical activity that gets you up and moving is good. Healthcare experts and physical fitness trainers agree it is best to “start slow, and build up over time.” This advice applies to everyone, especially those with prior health issues, physical handicaps, and the elderly. Starting slowly helps lower the risk of injury and make your exercise routine fun and more enjoyable.

Research studies show that walking for as little as 15 to 20 minutes a day starts to decrease the chances of you having a stroke or heart attack, developing diabetes, or dying prematurely. Any act of physical activity is better than none; the more you get, the better you feel.

Exercise releases dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and endorphins, all “feel good” hormones the lift our spirits and generate an overall sense of well-being.

Once you start to add more physical activity to your life and begin to experience the positive physical, emotional, and psychological benefits of exercise, you are more likely to continue exercising in order to continue to reap its positive benefits in your life. reports, “While the majority of fitness research efforts focus on the physical and health benefits of exercise, there is a growing body of work demonstrating that exercise promotes wellness and mental health. Researchers at Duke University studied people suffering from depression for four months and found that 60 percent of the participants who exercised for 30 minutes three times a week overcame their depression without using antidepressant medication. This is the same percentage rate as for those who only used medication in their treatment for depression. If you currently do not exercise, any increase in physical activity is good for you.“

Researchers at Duke University advise that walking has proven to be more effective than antidepressants in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Exercise also helps with major depression and bipolar disorder. For persons with bipolar disorder, walking and other forms of exercise can help level out the highs and lows moods present in this disorder. explains how aerobic exercise improves mental health, stating, “A common measure of the severity of depression is the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) score. The BDI is a series of questions which the subject answers and a score is produced. Some research has shown that after participating in a regular exercise program, patients with BDI scores corresponding to moderate to severe depression were able to reduce their scores into the mild to moderate category. Further, drugs with harmful side effects are often prescribed to alleviate the depression, even though some studies have found them to be less effective than regular exercise programs. Depression can be very mild or very severe but regardless, regular aerobic exercise may contribute to the improvement of this condition.”

Get up and go.

Stop worrying about if you are not doing enough. It’s easy to get started incorporating a bit more physical activity into your daily life now. Opportunities for exercise are all around us; take the stairs instead of the elevator, play outdoors with your children, walk the dog, or find a hobby or fun activity that gets you up and moving. Many people find that using a pedometer to keep track of how many steps they take in a day is a great motivator to find innovative ways to include more activity in their lives. explains the emotional benefits of exercise, stating,

“Exercise is not only about muscle size and aerobic capacity. Exercise improves your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even adds years to your life. But that's not what motivates most people to stay active. People who regularly exercise tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well–being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it doesn't take hours of pumping weights in the gym or running mile after mile to achieve those results. There are many different ways to be active—and they don't need to cost a lot of money.”


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Marlene Affeld
Marlene Affeld
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Marlene Affeld

“A passionate writer for more than 30 years, Marlene Affeld’s passion for the environment inspires her to write informative articles to assist others in living a green lifestyle.”

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