Exercise is Good for the Mind!
Exercise not only had many physical health benefits, but it has many mental health benefits, as well. Fitting in a good work out can help us to improve our mood and cope with stress.
Engaging in moderate aerobic exercise is proven to be a great natural mood-booster. In fact, a group of patients who suffered from mild to moderate depression were engaged in a 12-week exercise program study completed by Dunn and colleagues that involved one of three exercise routines: low intensity, moderate intensity, or placebo exercise (flexibility regimen).1 It was found that the group of patients who completed the moderate-intensity exercise routine three to five days per week experienced a greater mood improvement, compared to the low-intensity and placebo groups.1
Exercise has also been found to improve our behavioral and emotional responses to social stress.1 The prairie vole is a unique rodent that is often used to study social stress and emotion.1 These rodents live on prairielands in family groups and are known to form strong social bonds.1 Social stress, such as separation from family, leads to change in the voles’ behavior and emotions that look like depression.1 However, if they were allowed to exercise in a running wheel for four weeks, while separated from family and friends, their behavior and emotions improved, showing that they could better handle mild stress.1 While the prairie voles not only share many unique social traits with humans, but also biological similarities as well, this research shows that exercise can have stress-buffering effects in us, too.1
How does exercise have a stress-buffering and mood-elevating effect? Exercise changes the communication within the brain.1 As you exercise, you increase the oxygen and blood flow in your brain.1 It activates the nerves that stimulate your brain and can actually increase the production of new neurons.1 These are usually created in the hippocampus, which is the center of learning and memory.1 When you exercise, you also release certain neurotransmitters that alleviate pain—both physical and mental.1
Not only will you see some great physical effects from a regular exercise session, but you will also feel healthier mentally. Just another reason to stick with your new year’s resolution!