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Exercise and Mental Health: The dos and the donts

Exercise and Mental Health: The dos and the donts

We often associate working out with a goal of looking our best. It is important to remember, however, that exercise doesn’t just help with appearances, but our mental health as well. It’s truly amazing how great it can make you feel to be active.

You probably already recognize that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to miseries such as obesity, diabetes, and earlier death. These are just a few of the illnesses you may come across. You may also be one of the third of us who’ve recently committed to exercise more.

How often do you think about your mental health when going hard at the gym?

Many of us find that just a simple walk to the park or a trip to the gym can improve your mood. Physical fitness is well known to excite the body to produce endorphins and enkephalins. These are the body’s natural feel-good hormones which can make difficulties seem more controllable.

The simple act of concentrating on exercise can give us a break from present worries and harmful self-talk. People may also benefit from soothing exercises, be energized, and get outside or interact with others, all of which are known to improve mood and overall well-being.

Nevertheless, the idea that physical activity might do something essential for mental health is less obvious — especially with the Western distinction that “Mind” and “body” are two separate entities.

Increasingly strong evidence recommends that exercise is not only essential for the conservation of good mental health, but it can be used to treat even long-lasting mental illness. For example, it is now clear that exercise decreases the likelihood of depression and also maintains mental health as we age.  On the treatment side, exercise appears to be as good as existing pharmacological interventions across a range of conditions, such as mild to moderate depression, dementia, and anxiety, and even reduces cognitive issues in schizophrenia.

“OK. You got me. But Just how much exercise are we talking here?!”

 Three or more sessions per week of aerobic exercise or resistance training can help treat even chronic depression. Each session should consist of 45-60 minutes of fitness. One might notice the effects after 4 weeks. Training should be continued for 10-12 weeks for the greatest effect against depression.

Exercise levels below these suggested amounts are still useful.  The side effects (weight loss, increased energy, better skin, improved physical health, etc.) are a nice Incentive.

The brain has a neat trick to get us back on track. Christopher Bergland, of Psychology Today, shows that  even small improvements in exercise levels or diet create a positive upward spiral that increases the sensitivity of the dopamine receptors that signal that exercise will eventually become rewarding. This may seem inconceivable at first, but just keep at it!

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