We all know exercise is good because it gives you those feel good endorphins right? But what does that actually mean??
Exercise helps to promote good mental health by promoting changes in the brain including neural growth, reducing inflammation and supporting new patterns of activity that promote feelings of calm and wellbeing. Exercise also helps to release a group of hormones called endorphins, which activate the body’s opiate receptors causing an analgesic (painkilling) effect. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body – e.g. the ‘runner high’ – the optimistic and energising feeling after having done a run.
Exercise can also serve as a welcome distraction, allowing you to focus on the task at hand (your workout) rather than everything that is worrying you and going through your head.
Regular exercise helps to prevent and improve a number of health problems including high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis; however research also shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can help reduce stress, depression and anxiety and improve mood.
Regular exercise can help support depression and anxiety by not only releasing our feel-good hormones (neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids) but also by reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression and by increasing basal body temperature which can have a calming effect on the body.
The body loves short sharp bursts of stress (think of that boost of adrenalin when you have a deadline). However when the body is under constant stress it can lead to a whole host of issues including muscle tension (neck, shoulders and jaw), headaches, chest tightness and muscle cramps (just to mention a few). This stress can lead to a vicious cycle where worrying about the discomfort of these physical symptoms leads to even more stress and the worsening of these symptoms.
Regular exercise can be a great way to break this stress cycle. Endorphins not only give you that feeling of wellbeing, their release also helps to relax muscles and relieve tension in the body. Double win! We all know about the mind-body connection – when the body feels good the mind feels good.
Exercise helps manage symptoms of anxiety by relieving tension and stress, boosting physical and mental energy and enhancing wellbeing (through the release of endorphins). Getting out and exercising can help shift you mindset and allow you to focus on your activity rather than the thoughts in your head.
Focusing on the mindfulness element of exercising (feet hitting the ground, the rhythm of your breathing etc) can help interrupt the constant flow of thoughts through your head and support a more restful mind state.
There have been several long-term studies, which have shown that active individuals have a lower risk of depression compared to sedentary individuals. Social support has also been shown to be important for those with depression so joining a group class or training with a friend can be a great way of getting in your exercise in a supportive environment. Another benefit of exercise is improved confidence, which can support a more brighter and positive mood. Exercise helps to support stress – less stress results in a healthier happier body.
How much is enough? Doing 30 minutes to 1 hour of exercise three to five days per week has been shown to significantly improve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.