Depression, anxiety and addiction are all common and debilitating mental health disorders. Thankfully it is no longer taboo to talk about these diseases. Many large corporations, and even celebrities in the US, have taken a stance as advocates and to increase mental health awareness. Even more common is the research done on the correlation between exercise and mental health.
With an increase in awareness toward mental health comes more research surrounding this topic. In most cases, it was found that exercise improved many symptoms. Think for example of the ‘runner’s high’. The Journal of Adolescent Health suggests that engaging in physical activities has a positive correlation with reported self-esteem years down the line. During exercise, a release of dopamine, the ‘reward chemical’, gives the exerciser an uplifting and re-energized feeling. These warm and fuzzy chemicals are also responsible for calming down people with anxiety disorders and reducing anxiety sensitivity. There is also an increased production of cells in the hippocampus responsible for memory and learning.
The US National Library of Medicine states that “Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression”. These improvement in mood are proposed to be caused by exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain (which leads to improved motivation and mood).
As far as resistance training is concerned, The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine concludes that the evidence is quite impressive. Mental health benefits with resistance training include improved memory, decreased depression, decreased chronic fatigue, improved quality of sleep, improved cognition and improved self-esteem.
The bottom line is that exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.
So, with the dark days of winter around the corner, keep those endorphins flowing and get active!