A large-scale analysis of thousands of studies conducted over the past 30 years on the benefits of exercise on mental health came to an important conclusion — there’s ample evidence of statistically significant, and beneficial, links between physical activity and your mental well-being.
Here at the Institute for Advanced Psychiatry, this analysis confirms what Dr. Diana Ghelber and our team have long understood — exercise can play no small role in improving your mental health.
To give you a better idea about how exercise can improve your mental health and wellness, we’re going to take a look at the two most common mental health issues in the United States — anxiety disorders and depression.
In the United States, nearly 20% of adults have an anxiety disorder, which means 40 million people live much of their lives in an ongoing state of stress.
Exercise proves to be an excellent antidote because it:
- Relieves the muscle tension created by the body’s response to stress
- Distracts from the worry
- Increases antianxiety neurochemicals, such as serotonin and endocannabinoids
- Controls the amygdala, which is the area of your brain that processes threats
Each of these benefits of exercise tackles anxiety and stress from a different angle, creating an overall effect that can really take the teeth out of anxiety.
Exercise and depression
Many people group anxiety and depression, but they are two very different mental health issues. With depression, there’s a problem with mood regulation in your brain.
Exercise can have a positive influence on depression in several ways. First, exercise encourages more blood flow and oxygen to your brain, which leads to neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons. These neurons can then create healthier pathways in your brain that favor better mood regulation.
As important, exercise can be an all-natural antidepressant as activity encourages the release of endorphins in your brain, which are nicknamed “feel good” hormones. Endorphins are peptides that attach to certain receptors to elevate mood and resist pain.
Lastly, exercise works on depression in the same way it does anxiety — by distracting you from the problem. It’s easy to get stuck in your head when you have depression and exercise helps get you unstuck by forcing you to focus on something else.
We’ve limited our discussion of the benefits of exercise to anxiety disorders and depression, but the overall benefits of exercise on brain function makes it an excellent approach for most mental health issues.
How much exercise is beneficial?
When it comes to how much and which exercise to engage in, the beauty of the findings is that any activity that gets you moving is good. Look for activities that raise your heart rate so that you can get blood pumping to your brain.
As for how often you should exercise, we find that following the general exercise guidelines for overall health are great — 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity per week. Breaking it down, if you get moving for at least 30 minutes, five days a week, you can meet this threshold. Of course, if you can devote more time and energy to exercise, please do.
The bottom line is that there are many avenues to improving mental health and you should consider exercise to be a strong one.
If you have more questions about the benefits of exercise on your mental health, please contact us at the Institute for Advanced Psychiatry in Granbury or Fort Worth, Texas, to set up a consultation.