Can exercise be a solution for mental health disorders?

Can exercise be a solution for mental health disorders?

Many people sweat at the the gym or in nature to build muscle, physical endurance and to acquire that slim, sexy body, but your workouts have benefits above the waist too. Evidence is escalating for the mental benefits from exercise and psychologists have begun using exercise as part of their treatment regime. Regular physical activity has been seen to increase self-esteem, reduce stress and anxiety. In more recent studies, exercise is proving to play a vital role in preventing the development of mental health problems and improving the overall quality of your life. Get inspired to exercise more by reading up on these unexpected ways that working out can benefit you today.

Studies Show Results.
For the more than 10 years scientists have discussed that exercise boosts brain function regardless of age or fitness level. Recent studies confirm how exercise can exert positive mental health benefits across different age groups in populations of different health status.

Physical exercise is highly effective at lowering stress rates compared to what’s found in individuals who are less active. Our body’s natural stress response may create a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms; making you experience emotions more intensely and alter your behavior. Studies have shown a reduction in depression symptoms with exercise. Longer durations of exercise with greater frequency, shows a progressive reduction in depression symptoms, anxiety, sex addiction and technology addictions as well as eating disorders, trauma disorders and PTSD.

Studies have shown a 20% to 30% lower risk of depression and dementia for adults participating in physical activity. Physical exercise has been seen to increase life expectancy and decrease the main symptoms of dementia being memory loss and decline in cognitive functions like attention and concentration. Physical exercise activity can be defined as mild to moderate intensity such as walking, hiking or riding a bike, or could be considered high intensity such as running, aerobics or CrossFit.

Recent studies from Finland proved the benefits for healthy adults participating in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily; this can even be from an accumulation in varied bouts throughout the day. In Finland those that engaged in moderate exercise 2 to 3 times a week experienced significantly less depression, anger, and stress compared to those who exercised less or not at all. Studies like these found an improvement of total mood scores occurred after only 10 minutes of exercise at 60% VO2Max intensity level.

Global rehabilitation programs, like the one found at The Cabin understand these results and chooses to incorporate exercise and mindfulness therapy as a part of their addiction treatment; with services like meditation, yoga, personal training, mountain biking and Muay Thai boxing.

Overall Benefits of Physical Activity.

  • Mood enhancement happy chemicals. Even the smallest of exercises (recommended 30 minutes a day) can help increase your endorphins and stimulate several chemicals in your brain to allow you to feel more relaxed. Similarly you could have a confidence and esteem boost with the support of the chemistry in your brain.
  • Weight loss. Exercising helps you lose or maintain your weight. Weight loss makes you feel better about the way you look, feel happy with your appearance may lead to more confidence and improved self-esteem. Improved self-esteem can result by having a reduce negative self evaluation
  • Increased energy. Activity strengthens your muscles and boosts your endurance which sends oxygen and nutrients to your cells allowing your cardiovascular system and organs to work better; providing you more energy to endure your day. Being more energized can allow for enhance productivity in a healthy way rather than hustling and driving to meet your goals by exhausting yourself; leading to a more balanced state of work life balance and overall quality of life.
  • Better sleep. Physical activity can enhance the quality of your sleep allowing you to fall asleep more quickly or easily and stay asleep longer and deeper. Regular physical activity even in a moderate to low intensity fashion like walking stretching or mild swimming can help to regulate your adrenals and your overall cortisol levels, translating to healthier more balanced sleep cycles. When you feel more rested in the morning you’re more apt to look forward to the day head and when you can look forward to an ample night’s sleep you can have peace of mind at the end of the day.
  • Mental positivity and clarity. Physical exercise can be a great way to clear your mind. Physical activity can help redirect your thinking patterns whether you are tackling minor workout goals, providing mental rewards which work to boost and elevate your mood to provide a feeling of accomplishment and help your brain to refocus your attention on your wins and successes supporting your self-worth and esteem.The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you sharpen memory thinking, and concentration, keeping you mentally sharp for the tasks at hand.
  • Healthy social-life. Social exercise programs can encourage you to interact with peers and mentors. Having accountability partners and connecting with like-minded communities allows you the companionship so you don’t have to go through this alone.

What’s at Work?
Technically speaking, physical activity is movement of your body, utilizing muscles and expending natural energy. Chemically speaking, this movement stimulates your central nervous system; increasing the release of endorphins, neuropeptides which can suppress your perception of pain and improve your mood. With enough of these endorphins in your bloodstream you can achieve a natural euphoric state; as felt in the “runner’s high”. During physical exercise, serotonin is released by the central nervous system (CNS) into your bloodstream. This neurotransmitter is that “feel good” response associated with happiness and well-being, positively affecting your overall physiological and psychological health; improving your overall mood and even positively affecting your G.I. tract, function, memory, cognitive functions and cardiovascular health.

Regular exercise also helps to regulate the release of melatonin and cortisol; improving your sleeping patterns and regulating your food intake by balancing hormones responsible for suppressing or increasing appetite, eating disorders.

Exercise trains your nervous and cardiovascular system to become stronger, more efficient and better regulated, resulting in a lower baseline heart rate with an overall improvement of oxygen delivery to your cells which helps with calmness and relaxation, for patients with anxiety related disorders.

Physical exercise is also shown to increase proteins necessary for oxytocin production which leads to the feelings associated with love, positive rehabilitation necessary for any sexual disorders.

Biochemical changes with these increased levels of endorphins and opioid receptors in the brain can suppress triggers associated with overeating and eating disorders and positively impact your sense of well-being. Activities like mindfulness exercises or yoga have been scientifically proven to reduce the levels of stress hormone cortisol which is a key trigger for addicts it also increases interleukin levels, increasing energy and improving your body’s ability to rid itself of toxins including lactic acid.

Where to Start.
Being active doesn’t have to mean going to the gym or even playing a sport, there are tons of ways to be active and gain physical therapy with mental health benefits. Choose the physical activity that works best for you; indoors or out, it could be a sport with a group or a solo participation, with varying intensity levels. While establishing a workout routine you can start by setting small goals for yourself and consider some of the tips below.

10 simple ways to add physical activity to your day.

  1. Be practical. Start with small achievable goals.
  2. Simply start slow with some twisting, shaking, stretching or squatting, in intervals throughout your day.
  3. Find times during your day to add a few 10 min bursts of physical activity. Set the alarm early if you need to wake earlier to begin your day with 10 minutes.
  4. Opt to take your meetings out of the office and “walk and talk,” or walk during your lunch hour.
  5. Bend and stretch as you’re doing daily housework or gardening. While tending to your children, play, jump and mindfully lift and carry their weight.
  6. Turn on your favorite tunes and add dance breaks into your workday.
  7. Go on mall and shopping walks; increasing your pace as you window shop or peruse the shopping aisles.
  8. Recruit an accountability workout buddy. Enroll your colleagues, family and friends to move in lieu of coffee dates.
  9. Find a professional trainer to assess your physical abilities and help design a workout program with assisted coaching and accountability.
  10. Recap your results daily. Track your goals, accomplishments and progress to keep yourself motivated to keep on track.

6 Mental Exercises.
Once you get your blood flowing, exercise your mind as well. Depression, anxiety, stress and even suicidal thoughts are crippling symptoms associated with disorders. Some suggested ways to best deal with long-term mental disorders is to practice mental health exercises, along with your physical activity. Incorporate some of the following mental exercises into your daily regime.

  1. Set goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals are a good way to set healthy achievable benchmarks for continued well-being.
  2. Make positive lists. Gratitudes lists and positive change lists can be helpful reminders of the good work you’ve done and the opportunities surrounding your life.
  3. Understand your triggers. Reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol which is a key trigger to most disorders.
  4. Learn to say no to activities and thoughts which may lead you astray from your well-being goals.
  5. Reward yourself. You will enhance your mental picture and self worth by reinforcing your achievements, however big or small.
  6. Seek professional help. Reach out to a professional psychotherapist for therapy and consultation.

If you or a loved one is looking for specifically designed programs in the mental health there are several rehab facilities and programs specifically designed to incorporate exercise therapy for specified mental health disorder recovery. For more information or for general discussion contact me:

In your good health,
Noel McDermott

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