The Relationship Between Exercise and Mental Health: 5 Ways Physical Activity Affects Your Brain
Mental health is of utmost importance in today’s world of constant stress and anxiety. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 450 million people across the globe suffer from some form of mental illness. While therapy and medication are commonly used to treat mental health issues, there are several other natural ways to improve overall well-being, such as exercise.
Exercise has been found to have a profound effect on mental health, due to its ability to impact the brain positively. Here are five ways that physical activity affects the brain and how it can benefit mental health:
Exercise Increases Endorphins
Endorphins are often referred to as the “feel-good” chemicals in the body. They are neurotransmitters that are produced in the pituitary gland and hypothalamus and are known for their ability to reduce pain and elevate mood. Exercise has been found to increase the production and release of endorphins, leading to feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and happiness.
In a study published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that exercise can increase endorphin levels by up to four times the baseline level. This increase in endorphins can lead to reduced stress levels, decreased symptoms of depression, and an overall improvement in mental health.
Exercise Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can have a significant impact on mental health. Chronic stress can lead to an increased risk of developing mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders and depression. One of the most effective ways of reducing stress and anxiety is through physical activity.
When we exercise, our body releases cortisol, which is commonly known as the stress hormone. In small doses, cortisol can be beneficial, as it helps us respond to stress and keep us alert. However, when cortisol levels are too high for extended periods, they can have adverse effects on the body and mind. Exercise has been found to reduce cortisol levels, leading to decreased stress and anxiety levels.
In a study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, researchers discovered that people who exercise regularly have lower levels of anxiety and depression than those who do not. Additionally, the study found that exercise can help individuals cope with stressful situations more effectively.
Exercise Improves Cognitive Functioning
Cognitive functioning refers to the mental processes that allow us to think, learn, reason, and remember. Exercise has been found to have a significant impact on cognitive function, including memory, learning, and attention.
In a study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, researchers found that exercise can help improve cognitive function in older adults. The study showed that exercise can increase blood flow to the brain, which leads to improved cognitive functioning.
Another study published by the National Institutes of Health found that exercise can help prevent cognitive decline in older adults. The research showed that individuals who exercised regularly had a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment compared to those who did not exercise.
Exercise Boosts Self-Esteem and Confidence
Low self-esteem and confidence can have a significant impact on mental health. Physical activity has been found to have a positive impact on self-esteem and confidence, leading to improved mental health.
When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, which can lead to an improvement in mood and overall well-being. Additionally, exercise can help individuals feel better about their physical appearance, leading to a boost in self-esteem and confidence.
A study published by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that exercise can lead to improved self-image and perception of physical attractiveness. The study showed that individuals who exercised regularly reported feeling more confident about their appearance and had higher levels of self-esteem.
Exercise Can Alleviate Symptoms of Depression
Depression is a prevalent mental illness that affects millions of people worldwide. While medication and therapy are commonly used to treat depression, exercise has been found to be an effective way of reducing symptoms.
In a study published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that exercise can be as effective as medication in treating mild-to-moderate depression. The study showed that individuals who exercised regularly had significantly lower levels of depression compared to those who did not exercise.
Additionally, exercise can lead to an increase in endorphins and serotonin levels, both of which play a crucial role in mood regulation.