Mental health benefits of exercise

There is a growing body of literature that recognises the positive effects of exercise on mood states such as anxiety, stress and depression.  PHOTO/net

What you need to know:

Physical activity can reduce feelings of depression and stress, while improving your mood and overall emotional well-being.

When one talks of exercise, the immediate benefit many think of is stronger muscles and prevention of diseases such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases. Oftentimes, we forget that physical activity also benefits the brain in a number of ways.
Neurotransmitters are released 
Lydia Kaitesi, a fitness coach, says there are different intensity levels and depending on the kind 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 getting addicted to social media which ultimately draws one away from people into isolation, they can get it through working out. Dopamine is responsible for regulating our moods, bettering 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 one works out. 
“The often discussed neurotransmitter is endorphins, right after dopamine. For starters, endorphins help in blocking pain as well as increasing pleasure sensations, which is important for better mental health. That said, endocannabinoids are also released when one exercises. A combination of the two neurotransmitters will give you an amazing feeling as you work out,” he says. 

Reduces cognitive decline
According to a study; Cross-sectional association between physical activity level and subjective cognitive decline among US adults aged ≥45 years, when one continually works out, more so older persons, they keep their cognitive abilities high. Dementia is one of the conditions one delays when they work out or keep physically active. 
Otherwise, among the inactive, cognitive decline happens twice more than among those who are active. As such, every bit of activity, even house chores such as raking the lawn will help one keep active.
Oxygen supply to the brain
As the heart pumps while one works out, there is an increase in oxygen pumped alongside the blood, some of which goes to the brain in increased measures. 
“This leads to some changes to the brain blood vessels, which promotes improvements in brain functionality such as flexible thinking, better working memory as well as emotional control,” Gayira shares.

In a study; Aerobic Exercise Reduced Carotid Arterial Stiffness and Increased Cerebral Blood Flow in Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment, it was discovered that there is increased blood flow to the cerebrum during exercise. The cerebrum, which is the largest part of the brain, is responsible for motor activity, intellectual function and sensory impulses. As such, exercising means improvement in its functions. 
When brain health is improved, so does mental health. Apart from the direct benefits of exercising to the brain, our mental health is also improved when we work out. Here are some mental health benefits reaped 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 one has been taunted for being fat, rather than give in to the pressures, they can resort to working out. 
“While there is no guarantee that there will be no taunts as you start out, keeping at it will make you feel good because you are doing something to better your self-image,” she says. 
A study, Physical activity and body image among men and boys, showed that regularly working helps to better one’s self image, self-esteem and self-love.

Sharper memory
As earlier stated, working out sustains one’s memory as well as their thinking capacity. According to a study; Physical Activity, Cognition, and Brain Outcomes, staying physically active among older people betters working memory and boosts mental clarity. Ultimately, working out will help an older person avoid early onsets of Alzheimer’s disease while even the younger persons can benefit with better memory.

Relieves stress
Kaitesi says feeling agitated about a bad or hard day will not take away the effects it has had on you. However, if you work out, the best way you know how, you will release the stress. It could be jogging, push-ups or even gardening,” she shares.
The relationship between working out and boosting 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 are to remain productive as well as stave off some diseases 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 antidepressant medication, but without the side-effects, of course. 

Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energise your spirits 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 feed depression.



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