The Relationship between Regular Exercise and Mental Health
Regular exercise, besides being an avenue for losing weight and preventing disease, also has a relationship with mental health. There are many aspects to mental health, and some have strong associations with improvement due to exercise, while others need more research and evidence to show significance.
Although regular exercise helps in general ways, such as improving sleep and raising self-esteem, which help one’s mental state, there are specific conditions in which exercise has been shown to help. Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are some circumstances that tend to improve when regular exercise is incorporated with other types of treatment.
Recommendations for Regular Exercise
The definition of regular exercise varies from person to person. However, experts have a pretty good idea as to how much exercise is needed for someone to notice improvements in their mental health. Science Direct reports that the optimal volume of exercise for mental benefits ranges between two and a half to seven and a half hours a week.
The amount needed for optimal benefits varies for each individual. Older or out-of-shape individuals may be fine with a few hours a week, while younger people who are active anyway may get better results from longer workouts performed more frequently. It has also been found that those who got either more or less exercise than the recommended range actually noticed poorer mental health, so keeping it in the optimal range is best.
Regular Exercise and Depression
Regular exercise has been known for awhile to potentially help with certain cases of depression. Many of the signs of mild to moderate depression can be alleviated or lessened with exercise, as is shown by the National Institutes of Health.
Depression can be the result of a number of things, including hormonal change, life events, trauma, brain chemical changes, genetics, or biological differences, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although medications and counseling are often recommended for treatment of depression, regular exercise has started to become part of some treatment programs.
One of the reasons why exercise has been shown to help in many cases of depression is because there are certain chemicals that are released with physical activity. These chemicals are called endorphins, and these endorphins interact with certain brain receptors.
In the brain, endorphins help to decrease sensitivity to pain as well as act like sedatives in some situations. These actions can help increase self-esteem and decrease anxiety. Endorphins also help give those who exercise a more energizing and positive outlook on life in general, which will help combat feelings of sadness and depression.
Another reason why exercise tends to help improve mental health is because it is often a social activity. If you like group exercise activities such as aerobics classes, volleyball, or tennis, you are spending time with others, which can increase your mood and self-esteem. Even going for a walk with a friend can help a lot, as just having someone to talk to can relieve a lot of the anxiety and worry that depression brings.
Although exercise has a good track record to help those with symptoms of depression, you should always talk with your doctor to make sure it is the right course for you. Exercise is often recommended as part of the treatment program, but some people who are depressed need other types of treatment as well. You want to make sure it is managed correctly to get the best results.
Regular Exercise and Decreased Alcohol Abuse
Some studies have shown a positive relationship between exercise and kicking an alcohol or other drug habit. There are a number of theories as to why regular exercise helps those who are getting out of programs for alcohol treatment.
Advances in Psychiatric Treatment concluded that those individuals who are recovering from alcohol abuse and partake in aerobic exercise are able to deal with life after rehab more easily than those who don’t exercise. Aerobic exercise helped study participants manage stresses in life more easily, which helped prevent them from wanting to drink.
Exercise also helps those who partake in alcohol reduce the amount of alcohol consumed, which will hopefully keep some alcohol abusers from becoming full-blown alcoholics.
Types of Exercise Recommended for Mental Health Help
There is no one particular type of exercise that is recommended over others to help improve mental health. In general, some kind of aerobic exercise tends to have greater results than just stretching or lifting weights. There are many ways to stay active, so it should be easy to find a type of exercise that you enjoy.
If you like running or other high-intensity exercise, by all means go for it. However, there are other activities that will garner the same results. Some recommended activities are swimming, biking, tennis, walking, dancing, golfing (without a cart), and low-impact aerobics. Even doing things around the house such as housework, yard work, and gardening can be beneficial for your mental health.
There are many benefits to regular exercise. If you struggle with mental health issues or if you just want to keep your brain in tip-top shape, exercising on a regular basis should become a part of your routine.