Exercise and Mental Health: What's the Correlation?

Exercise and Mental Health: What's the Correlation?

If you want to put your mental health at the top of your priority list, you need to exercise. If you're feeling unmotivated, stay tuned -- it’s a proven fact that exercise truly does boost your mood, big time.

A study from the University of Vermont looked at treating people who are in-patients in psychiatric facilities with physical exercise. They found that, even though the patients had different forms of mental health problems and mood disorders, exercise alleviated symptoms and, in some cases, reduced time in facilities and reliance on medication. 

That’s big news. It means that natural, physical activity can be effectively used as a first-line treatment for folks with anger, anxiety, and depression issues. Of course, that’s great news for people in mental health facilities, but this news can directly be used by anyone who wants a regular, natural boost, and improved mental health.

Why Exercise Helps Mental Health

There is the obvious benefit of being physically healthy. You can avoid certain illnesses, which could cause you to experience depression, frustration, and anxiety. Moving beyond that, there are different ways that mental health gets a boost from physical activity.

Aerobic exercise and the connection to anxiety, depression, and mood are promising. Significant benefits were discovered when looking at studies that found a positive correlation between exercise and people with mood disorders and healthy people. 

The most significant benefits were found in people who did aerobic exercises that used large muscle groups and were at a moderate to low intensity, performed for 15-30 minutes, at least three times a week for 10 weeks or more. It’s quite a commitment but worth it. 

Results can be noticeable after a single session and improve over time, which is a lot faster than it takes to see physical results from working out.

Looking at all of the data, it appears as if endorphins and monoamine are big reasons exercise is so beneficial.

Endorphins are molecules produced by your pituitary gland and hypothalamus. They give you a great sense of well-being and can even relieve pain. 

♦ Monoamine neurotransmitters work in your central nervous system and are important in emotions, learning, and memory. Serotonin is one of these neurotransmitters, and it’s long been a key part of treating depression.

While these chemical reactions in the brain get a lot of credit, there are other hypotheses that deserve a look too. 

♦ A simple distraction can play a role in giving your brain a break from all of life’s stress. Try focusing on a fitness routine. 

♦ Self-efficacy is another way that exercise makes you feel great. Whether you’re challenging yourself to be more fit, or you’re just proud of yourself for finishing your routine, accomplishing something is an important part of feeling good about yourself.

♦ Social interaction works like a vaccine to release oxytocin and lower cortisol. Face-to-face communication has an important role in happiness and mental health. And yes, this means talking to someone IRL.

While there are a lot of possible reasons that exercise helps with mental health, there’s no one definitive explanation. This could be because each person reacts differently or because the response is triggered by several factors at once. It could also be a combination of those two. 

The real takeaway here is that exercise does strengthen your mental health and your physical health.

How Exercise Supports Mental Health

So, exercise can improve your mental health, but how? Running a mile doesn’t instantly make you feel better, or does it? That all depends on you and your response to exercise. 

It should be noted that while running works for some people, so much so that they get a “high” feeling, it doesn’t work for everyone. But, once you find the exercise that works for you, you can expect to see the following benefits. 

♦ Reduced anxiety

♦ Decreased depression

♦ More positive moods

♦ Improved self-esteem

♦ Cognitive function improvements

♦ Increased ability to interact socially

♦ Improved sleep

♦ Increased libido

♦ More endurance, energy, and stamina

♦ Stress relief

♦ Weight maintenance or loss

♦ Reduced cholesterol

♦ Improved cardiovascular fitness

♦ A rise in physical health overall

Exercises for Mental Wellbeing

If you want a mental boost or simply want to be more proactive about your mental health, the following exercises give you a good idea of things you can try. 

It doesn’t need to be the same thing every time, just get out and be active.

♦ Running, your speed doesn’t matter

♦ Brisk walking a la cardio-based treadmill class

♦ Swimming is perfect if you have joint issues but want a challenge

♦ Cycling or your favorite spin class

♦ Gardening, not only the physical activity but the soil itself is an antidepressant

♦ Dancing, all forms, provide epic physical and emotional boosts

♦ Obstacle courses are basically adult playgrounds - perfect for friend groups

♦ HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is awesome for adrenaline junkies

Of course, these are only suggestions. If you’re heavy into soccer or another sport that has you moving around and working big muscle groups, then you’re already exercising for your mind and body. 

Just remember, it’s best to get in at least three workouts a week with a duration of 30 minutes or more. For some inspiring suggestions that will keep you moving, check us out on Facebook @livewelllabsnutrition and Instagram @livewelllabs

Living Well

The mind-body connection is a miraculous thing. Just one small area of that is how moving your body physically and strengthening it can boost your mental health - in remarkable ways nonetheless.

Even folks living in in-patient situations with serious mental health problems have shown notable improvements when they add exercise to their daily routine. This means that you have the power to make your mental health a priority just by incorporating exercise into your schedule. 

The best choice of exercise is the one that best suits you, the one you enjoy best. That way, you'll be more inclined to stick to it. Give these a try and see how you begin to feel in the days and weeks to come. We're rooting for you!