Benefits of exercise for mental health

When talking about exercise, the immediate benefit that many think of is muscle building and the prevention of diseases such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Often we forget that physical activity also benefits the brain in many ways.

Neurotransmitters are released
Lydia Kaitesi, fitness coach, explains that there are different levels of intensity and depending on the type one adopts, certain neurotransmitters are released and one of them is dopamine.
“This feel-good chemical is why some people are glued to social media. However, rather than becoming addicted to social media which ultimately drives people away from isolation, they can do so by working out. Dopamine is responsible for regulating our mood, improving learning and attention levels, boosting our working memory, as well as regulating pain processing and sleep cycles. , she says.

Moses Gayira, a fitness trainer, adds that endorphins and endocannabinoids are other neurotransmitters produced when working out.
“The neurotransmitter we often talk about is endorphin, right after dopamine. For starters, endorphins help block pain and increase feelings of pleasure, which is important for better mental health. That said, endocannabinoids are also released when you exercise. A combination of both neurotransmitters will make you feel amazing during your workout,” he says.

Reduces cognitive decline
According to a study; Cross-sectional association between physical activity level and subjective cognitive decline in US adults aged ≥45 years, when continuously exercising, more so in older adults, they maintain high cognitive abilities. Dementia is one of the conditions that are delayed in exercising or remaining physically active.
Otherwise, in the inactive, cognitive decline occurs twice as much as in the active. As such, every activity, even household chores like raking the lawn, will help keep you active.

Oxygen supply to the brain
As the heart pumps while exercising, there is an increase in oxygen pumped along the bloodstream, some of which goes to the brain in increased measures.
“This leads to certain changes in the blood vessels of the brain, which promote improvements in brain functionality, such as flexible thinking, better working memory as well as emotional control,” shares Gayira.

In one study; Aerobic exercise reduced carotid artery stiffness and increased cerebral blood flow In amnesic mild cognitive impairment, it was found that there is increased blood flow to the brain during exercise. The cerebrum, which is the largest part of the brain, is responsible for motor activity, intellectual function, and sensory impulses. As such, exercise means improving one’s functions.
When brain health improves, mental health also improves. Besides the direct brain benefits of exercise, our mental health is also improved when we exercise. Here are some mental health benefits from working out:

Improved self-confidence
For many people, body image is so important that it affects their mental health. Kaitesi points out that if someone has been taunted for being fat, rather than giving in to pressure, they can resort to training.
“While there’s no guarantee there won’t be teasing at first, you’ll feel good because you’re doing something to improve your self-image,” she says.
A study, Physical Activity and Body Image in Men and Boys, showed that working out regularly helps improve self-image, self-esteem, and self-love.

Cleaner memory
As stated earlier, practicing supports memory as well as thinking ability. According to a study; Physical activity, cognition and brain outcomes, staying physically active in older adults improves working memory and boosts mental clarity. Ultimately, exercise will help an older person avoid the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, while even younger people can benefit from better memory.

Relieves stress
Kaitesi says feeling restless about a bad or rough day won’t take away the effects it had on you. However, if you train, in the best possible way, you will release stress. It could be jogging, push-ups or even gardening,” she shares.
The relationship between working out and improving your brain health as well as your mental health is one that cannot be ignored.
Today, more than ever, our mental state is important if we want to stay productive and avoid certain illnesses and conditions such as depression, heart disease and dementia.

Exercise and depression
Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressants, but without the side effects, of course.

Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. More importantly, it promotes all sorts of changes in the brain, including neuronal growth, reduced inflammation, and new patterns of activity that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your mind and make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that fuel depression.


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Richard V. Johnson