Why Exercise Benefits Mental Health?


Why Exercise Benefits Mental Health?

By Renee SellersRelaxing exercises on beach at sunset

Ever wonder why you feel so much happier and more relaxed after a nice, solid workout? I did, so I did a little research and found the article “How the Three Pillars of Exercise Benefit your Mental Health” by Carrie Steckl, PHD. I wanted to know how exercise on my body affects brain chemicals.

The first category of exercise is cardio and aerobic.

These increase heart rate and oxygen intake. Activities such as running, swimming and dancing (thank goodness) can count as both cardio and aerobic. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, increased blood flow to the brain reduces stress and anxiety, and influences glands that increase mood and motivation. No wonder doing the cha-cha puts a smile on your face! Additionally, endorphins are released that reduce our perception of pain and increase our mood.

Aside from a good cardio boost, sometimes I like to do a little resistance and strength training to tone up.

These exercises can include lifting free weights, using machines, or simply doing push-ups. This type of training can also help with anxiety, self-esteem, and improving mental and sleep functioning. Some more tentative information also shows that strength and resistance training can create new brain cells and blood vessels, and increase neurotransmitter output, all of which improves mental functioning!

The last portion of a typical workout ends with some calming stretching and flexibility exercises.

Many people, including myself, choose to do yoga for this activity. Although this type of exercise has the least scientific support, several established research studies prove that yoga can help with stress response through easing heart rate, blood pressure, depression and anxiety while simultaneously increasing energy and well-being! Whether or not stretching has major effects on our mental health, its calming activity is a good way to top off the three pillars of exercise. The next time you're in a blue mood, instead of turning on the TV, go outside for a run, do some lunges and top it off with some yoga to help your mind and body achieve harmony and happiness.