Exercise and its Effect on Mental Health


man doing yoga against sunset

Exercise being good for the body isn’t exactly new information. Through exercise, we tone our bodies and make them stronger, faster, and more durable etc. But something new about exercise has been uncovered by the psychiatric community in recent decades. Exercise has a surprisingly beneficial effect on the mind as well as the body. While it’s been common knowledge for some time now that regular exercise helps you focus and keeps your mind sharp, it’s been found to go much deeper than that, having an effect on such mental health issues as depression, anxiety, and even PTSD. Exercise has a wide effect on the body and mind, and this article will go over the most notable examples. So, if you’re a man in his mid 20’s, and you are dealing with one of the following mental health challenges, here is how exercise can help you overcome them.

Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the world today. Whether it’s from intense societal pressures and prejudices, an increasingly divided political climate, toxic work environments, or just not being able to put food on the table because your job doesn’t pay you nearly enough, more and more people, especially young people, are dealing with depression to one extent or another. But studies have shown that regular exercise can treat mild depression about as effectively as antidepressant medication, with none of the cost or side effects. This is due to exercise causing myriad changes in your brain chemistry, including reduced inflammation, increased neural growth, and creating new patterns of brain activity that focus more on promoting calmness and well-being. It also helps the production of endorphins, which are the chemicals in your brain which create the feeling of happiness. On top of that, it’s also a good distraction. Despite every instinct telling you to do so, the last thing that’s healthy for you when going through a bout of depression is to coop yourself up and wallow in the negative thoughts. A nice jog in the open air can help you get your mind off of those thoughts. While it won’t completely destroy your depression, it’s a great, healthy coping mechanism.

Anxiety

man suffering from anxiety and depressionThere’s a difference between normal anxiety and clinical anxiety. Normal anxiety is being nervous about a job interview. Clinical anxiety is being scared to even leave your room, let alone your house. It’s a crippling fear of your own weakness, the outside world, the people around you etc. While not necessarily that crippling in many cases, in many others it is, and it’s a nightmare for those who have it, fully aware that it’s just the anxiety talking, but it’s talking too loud for them to hear anything else. This is why, on top of whatever treatment your doctor recommends, regular exercise can be a great way to help deal with anxiety. For one, exercise is a known stress reliever, which can seriously lower one’s anxiety by a wide margin. The release of endorphins promotes good feelings in the brain and throughout the body, meaning that a simple round of jumping jacks can help you feel better about facing the day ahead of you. And as for the constant mental flow of never-ending worries, focus on little details in the moment, such as the sensation of your floor under your feet, or the feeling of the wind blowing through your hair. Little things like this can help to interrupt the negative flow.

ADHD

People with ADHD are known to have serious trouble remaining focused on a task. This is why exercise is vital for proper development of anyone struggling with ADHD. This should especially apply to children, as they can internalize this means of dealing with their ADHD at an earlier age and thus not struggle with it as much later in life. Regular physical activity helps to boost the brains level of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which adds up to increased attention, focus, and memory. It functions about the same as Ritalin and Adderall, two commonly used medications for people with ADHD. Only, like with depression medication, no side effects or dent to your wallet.

Stress

man jogging to reduce stress and anxiety and takes ProgentraFeeling stressed out? Go for a jog up and down the road, simple as that. It’s astounding how much better you feel after a good workout, especially if you had a stressful day at work. Stress builds up and does not end pretty in the long term, often resulting in intense anxiety in the long term and even physical changes if it keeps piling up. Look at any president before they took office and then one of them after they left. That is what too much stress for long periods of time does to the body. Which is why it’s important to get some exercise whenever your stress has built up. It also will help to clear up any of the tense feelings in your muscles that said stress has been causing, particularly around the shoulders, neck, and face. It clears up the stress, and saves you from headaches or neck pains that this tenseness would’ve caused if left unchecked.

PTSD

PTSD is often associated with veterans coming home from war, and while that is certainly true, it’s not the whole story. PTSD is your brain on permanent defensive mode when it comes to certain sounds, sights or other stimuli. Any kind of traumatic event, whether it be a near death experience in a car, or your kitchen pipes bursting multiple times in a row, your brain’s relationship with the stimuli associated with those things is forever changed. Fortunately, regular exercise can be a good coping mechanism if you let it. Outdoor physical activities such as biking, rock climbing, hiking, or just going for a nice long run up and down the street once a day, have been shown to mitigate the symptoms of PTSD.

Mental health is a complex thing, and if there was one end-all-be-all cure for certain mental health problems, every doctor would prescribe it every time. But physical fitness has been proven to be effective against these mental health struggles, and if properly adopted into your daily routine, can make your life just a bit more bearable.