Orlando Heath Counselor Shares Helpful Insights On How Exercise Can Increase Mental Health

exerciseandmentalhealthOf course, we all know about the positive effects that exercise has on our physical health such as improvements in weight management, body composition (including muscle tone), diabetes management, cardiovascular health, energy levels, and more.   There are other types of benefits associated with physical activity that unfortunately do not get as much attention as they deserve. These are the positive emotional and mental health benefits associated with exercise. Since the upcoming holiday season is unfortunately where depression and “SAD” (Season Affective Disorder) tend to be on the rise, this article aims to highlight the important benefits that exercise has on one’s psychological wellbeing (in addition to the already well-known physical benefits).
Let’s talk first about the mood benefits of exercise. Have you ever began a workout not feeling motivated and, within 15 minutes into it, you had a sudden increase in energy and noticeably felt better? Psychologically, we now know that exercise has been shown to improve mood. In fact, today, more mental health counselors are beginning to integrate exercise and movement within the treatment of clinical anxiety and depression. Even if well managed, exercise is still recommended to keep these conditions at bay. The possible link to these conditions may be due to the brain chemicals that are released during exercise (like endorphins and neurotransmitters) which have a positive impact on mood. Our thoughts, emotions, and physiology are intimately connected and impact one another. When we lead with our physiology (positively or negatively), our mood will inevitably be affected (in either a positive or negative manner).

Next, let’s talk stress. Who doesn’t have stress in their lives? This is something that no one is exempt from. Our differences lie in how well we cope or manage our stress (or mismanage it). I’ve noticed some of my mentors in my own life that are highly successful, busy executives with their calendars full and have excuse to not be active. Yet still, I’ve seen these individuals make their daily exercise routine a priority on their calendar. This suggests to me that if one truly sees the value of staying active and decides that it is a daily “must” to get it in, then it becomes easier to creatively find a way to make it happen.

I’ve also observed that the individuals that are successful in getting exercise in daily have positive associations attached to it. For example, they view it as cathartic, allowing for an emotional release from the tension of external stressors in their lives, opposed exercise being perceived as a punishment. If this is a paradigm you tend to catch yourself in, I want to encourage you to begin to reframe exercise as a privilege and choose to look forward to it as devoting personal time for yourself.

Finally, let’s talk about the brain benefits. Today, research supports that exercise is protective against cognitive decline as we age, which we become more susceptible to after the age of 45, with disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia as being among some of the most known. The good news is that we now know that exercise is very beneficial before the age of 45 as a preventive measure against these conditions. The research shows that it protects our brain’s hippocampus, which governs memory and learning. There is also a process called neurogenesis that takes place with exercise, which allows the body to make new brain cells and improve cognitive performance. As if this wasn’t enough, exercising consistently is linked with improvements in memory and the ability to more efficiently take on novel tasks.

In summary, we all can maybe recall the noticeable positive effects of exercise immediately after a workout. I hope you were inspired with reading the above to learn that the way you feel after a workout is not by accident and these effects do not necessarily have to be short-term. In addition to how you feel, there are also cathartic, stress-relieving, and cognitive benefits to add as a bonus to the physical benefits of a good workout. So, please be encouraged to stay active! The benefits far outweigh the time and sweat you put into it.

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