How exercise helps improve our mental health


How exercise helps improve our mental health

by Elaine Blum
Stripes Okinawa

During the dark, gloomy times in the winter, many people struggle with the winter blues, which includes feeling down, tired, sad, unenergized and maybe even a little depressed. Luckily, there is an easy way to battle bad moods and improve your general mental health: Exercise.

Exercise may not be considered a fun activity by some people but according to several psychological studies and the American Psychological Association, there is proof for a mood-enhancement effect that takes place during a workout, felt strongly about five minutes afterward. A general consensus among researchers defines low-intensity aerobic exercise that lasts about 30 to 35 minutes and is performed three to five times a week as best at increasing positive moods. However, any kind of exercise that fits your individual skill and fitness levels will do just fine.

Knowing this, physical activity is used to treat depression and anxiety alongside the traditional medication, but it also has many benefits for people who are just trying to battle the winter blues or improve their general mood. Exercise raises the endorphin levels in our bodies. Endorphin is the feel-good chemical produced by our brain and spinal cord that makes us feel happy, elated and more relaxed after a good workout.

Exercise also decreases stress levels by offering a distraction from struggles in your job and home life and creating a change of scenery. Especially, during the winter, it can be good to get outside and see something other than your own four walls or the office at your job. Biologically speaking, an increased heart rate caused by a workout can actually reverse stress-induced brain damage by stimulating the production of neurohormones like norepinephrine, which in turn improve mood and thinking affected by stressful events as Dr. Shawna Charles outlines in an article for Walden University.

Another improvement in your life that regular exercise can offer you, is that it helps you get better sleep because it increases the body temperature, which can have calming effects on the mind. Thus, no matter how unreasonable it sounds, working out actually makes you less tired.

An important benefit of exercise is that it can increase your self-esteem, which can be described as the key indicator of a person’s well-being and ability to cope with life stressors. Exercise raises self-esteem through physical achievements such as weight loss or simply being able to walk up a long set of stairs without feeling out of breath.

If you integrate even just a basic workout routine into your life, you are definitely on the right track to battle the winter blues and similar feelings caused by social distancing or any other life stressors.

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