Many people think of exercise as something that is only beneficial for your physical health. Some people exercise to stay in good shape, some want big muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and others want to lower their blood pressure or cholesterol levels. How often do you hear someone say they are exercising for their mental health? “Hey there, going on a run for my anxiety”, or “I’m going to go lift some weights for my depression”. It may be more of an unspoken reason, but I want you to know that exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mental health.
As mentioned in my other blog on anxiety, exercise is beneficial for breaking down stress hormones and releasing positive endorphins. People who suffer from depression and anxiety often have elevated levels of cortisol in their system. Cortisol is released into the system as a stress response and decreasing levels of cortisol has been associated with an overall improvement in mood. Exercising is one of the best ways to break down cortisol, as well as several other stress hormones released during emotional distress (which we will not be covering today). Ever hear someone say they like to run because of the runners high? I can understand why you may be skeptical of how running can get you a high, but there is some truth behind it. Many studies have proven that exercise increases levels of beta-endorphin and beta-lipotrophin which serve as natural painkillers. An elevation in these endorphins can produce a sense of euphoria similar to that experienced when taking opioids like Morphine. If you ask any medical professional, they will agree that it is better to get addicted to high from exercise than a high from a pill.
We do not want to completely stray away from the benefits that exercise has for your physical health, because many people get depressed over their physical health. You may be depressed from being overweight, or have to take medication to counteract metabolic changes that have occurred in your body due to poor diet and lack of exercise. Exercising regularly can help you lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight level, which will improve your self-image. Nobody likes taking medication or having strict dietary restrictions, and exercising regularly can help prevent chronic health issues such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, or diabetes which require medication management and dietary restrictions. Some of the elderly get depressed as their bodies deteriorate and become less functional as they age. For these individuals, going on walks daily and participating in light exercise can help maintain the muscle mass and strength required to keep moving independently.
We briefly scratched the tip of the iceberg that encompasses the benefits gained from exercising, but I think you get the point. Increasing exercise levels is something I recommend to all of my patients, no matter how mild or severe their case may be. Make sure you push yourself a little when you exercise, as pushing your limits will garner better results. Depending on your age and health some may be able to do more than others, but the bottom line is to just do something. Anything is better than nothing. Now that is enough reading on the internet for today, so get out there and get moving!