Everybody knows that exercise can help trim your waistline, ward of diabetes, heart disease, asthma, assist with chronic back pain, joint pain, and arthritis, and lower the risk of dying from breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer. This is all according to Web M.D.
But there is a larger benefit from just building a healthier body through exercise, and that’s just feeling good.
Sports Create The Same Brain Chemicals as Feeling Happy And Safe
Nearly everyone is familiar with the term “Runners High,” the sense of Euphoria that some runners experience after a long-distance run. Even if people never experience “runners high,” it’s a common expression.
Even if only around 10 percent of runners experience it, it turns out that science has pinned runners high to being an Anandamide, a cannabinoid in the brain that affects people similar to taking marijuana.
There are two types of cannabinoids in the brain, CB1, and CB2.
While CB2 regulates bones’ growth, and both cannabis receptors also reduce inflammation in the body, mice without sufficient CB1 show definitive psychological abnormalities.
Since it’s been shown that exercise elevates people’s moods, it could be entirely possible that people who are depressed and experience a lot of anxiety simply are not getting enough exercise stimulants in the form of cannabinoids to feel normal.
This is not to suggest that getting high through the THC of marijuana is a normal function, but rather produces its own anti-anxiety, anti-stress chemicals through exercise. This all according to Scientific American.
Exercise and Depression
While the debate continues in the scientific and medical community, with some favoring the cannabinoid theory and others ensuring the release of endorphins to the brain, there is also some certainty.
Mild to moderate depression can equally be treated by exercise as it can through medication, and without any side effects.
For example, a study conducted at Harvard indicated that 15 minutes of either running or brisk walking reduced depression by 26 percent.
However, it works, whether through cannabinoids or aerobic exercises such as brisk walking or running, definitely improves people’s spirits.
At the same time, for 15 minutes or so, people are relieved from the continual cycle of negative thoughts.
Exercise and Anxiety
First, many people have difficulty differentiating between depression and anxiety. Depression is a specific mental problem, usually chemical-related, resulting in low mood and a feeling of hopelessness.
Anxiety is having constant, runaway thoughts, being restless and having difficulty concentrating.
Exercise significantly improves anxiety, particularly when coupled with mindfulness.
If you run, walk or bicycle, for example, and concentrate on how your body feels when exercising it, it will break the cycle of runaway thoughts, and the cannabinoids/ endorphins will take care of the rest.
Exercise and Stress
People generally feel stress when their current personal events, be at work, at home, with their children, family or friends run out of their control.
Stress is a natural bodily reaction, people’s neck, face, and shoulders scrunch up, leaving them with headaches and back and neck pain. Insomnia is another frequent experience from stress.
As physical symptoms begin to manifest, people also worry about their health, and the results can create a vicious cycle between bodily discomfort and mental discomfort.
Exercise stresses the muscles and pushes them beyond their normal levels, following which they relax significantly.
By getting enough exercise, you relax the body, which in turn provides significant mental relaxation.
Exercise and ADHD
Have you been diagnosed with ADHD and are taking Ritalin or Adderall to control it?
Never stop any medication without a doctor’s say, but studies have shown that ADHD can be significantly controlled by performing enough exercise.
Again, exercise leads to the production of critical brain chemicals for mental health.
Exercise and PTSD and Trauma
PTSD and trauma are very real psychological problems where the trauma of events such as seeing a friend die in combat are so dramatic that parts of the brain begin to shut down to provide a safety valve.
Even more than usual, a combination of exercise, whether it be walking, running, swimming, weight training, dancing, hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, or skiing and mindfulness can improve the needed mind/body connection.
This combination of exercise and mindfulness and gradually produces mental healing through physical means.
This is particularly true when exercise is coupled with mindfulness. By paying attention to how the body feels, blocks can be released and trauma overcame.
Other mental health benefits
Exercise can produce other mental benefits. Studies have shown that exercise can produce sharper thinking, new brain cells, and higher self-esteem as you reach new goals in your fitness level.
Exercise also produces much better sleeping patterns, a major development in improving both your physical and mental health. Better sleep gives you significantly less body fatigue and stronger mental resilience.
It also provides you with the ability to say no to negative influences like alcohol or drugs.
So how do you start?
It can be noted that when you are depressed or anxious, it’s difficult to find the mental energy to start to perform regular physical exercise.
That’s okay. The way you deal with it is to start gradually.
Don’t try to run a marathon on your first day out, blow out a thigh, or develop blisters on your feet that will cause you to put away your exercise shoes for several weeks.
Instead, start with 5 minutes a day and work up.
Or do 5 minutes of walking and running fairly fast if you are physically able to, and then slow down for a few minutes and do the next 3 to 5 minutes at slow speed.
Realize that you do not need to suffer to get the benefits from exercise. The adage “no pain, no gain has been disproved time and again.”
Also, consider getting a buddy to join you. Alcoholics have sponsors. People who need to exercise to feel better often need similar help to keep them going.
Finally, do exercise you enjoy. Hate running? Don’t do it. Switch to swimming or dancing. There are myriad ways to get in your exercise.
The bottom line
Exercise can be a huge benefit for your mental health. Start slow if you have to, but gradually you may find that exercise benefits your mental health in significant ways that medications will not.