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Fitness as a Tool for Addressing Mental Health

Apr 6, 2021

All it takes is a jog in the park or weight lifting session at the gym to notice that exercise leaves you in a good mood. Exercise is certainly better at stress reduction than a glass of wine after a long day. It may not be a quick fix to weight loss but it is an easy answer to better mental health. It’s not simply an anecdotal experience to prove it and there’s a lot more to it. There’s loads of science to back up these claims. I looked to the national bestselling book, “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and The Brain” for answers. The book totes the benefits of exercise at helping with conditions including anxiety, depression, ADHD, addiction and hormonal challenges.

According to authors Ratey and Hagerman, the main benefit of exercise is it greatly improves brain health. Physical activity is linked to the way we think and feel. It is well known that working out increases levels of important neurotransmitters that influence our thoughts and emotions. The mind body connection is at the heart of this research and it’s the reason why by exercising frequently one can do things such as focus and learn better.

I was most interested in the effects exercise has on stress a condition all of us cope with in many forms on a daily basis. Interestingly, exercise itself is a form of stress. However the reason exercises help us cope with stress is that the brain activity caused by stress results in cell damage but the repair leves cells better equipped for the next time one is stressed. Exercise makes the brain better able to handle all forms of stress. Additionally, regular exercise raises the threshold at which the body can handle stress. It’s a good idea to take a walk on your lunch break to better handle the next meeting.

Some other benefits of exercise on mental health are …

-Exercise impacts the same pathways as many medications used to treat anxiety.

-Endorphins, stress hormones, produce the feelings of wellbeing counteracting anxiety and depression.

Exercise regulates all of the neurotransmitters targeted by antidepressants.

-Exercise boosts levels of dopamine and norephineprhine improving symptoms of ADHD.

Another reason to hit the gym or the walking trails today!

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