When we think of how exercise positively impacts our bodies and lives, typically, we think of the physical benefits. Physical exercise has gained quite the reputation for helping us get in better shape and prevent chronic illnesses. Regular exercise has been shown to help prevent the onset of various diseases. Exercise can protect against and prevent many chronic diseases. However, did you know you can improve your mental health with exercise as well? So how does exercise improve mental health?
There are countless studies that demonstrate how exercise can improve your mental health. I mean, it makes sense. What is one of the primary reasons you hear people say they want to get into the gym? While the reason may change from person to person, a really common reason is to gain some confidence.
Confidence From Exercise
Confidence is a strange thing. It’s something we feel but isn’t technically an emotion. Confidence is often times associated with self-esteem. While similar, the two are actually different. Confidence is in reference to how you feel about performing a task successfully. While self-esteem is in reference to how you feel about yourself, whether that’s your behavior or how you look.
There are common situations where you might have plenty of self-esteem but no confidence or vice versa. For example, I may have good self-esteem. However, I definitely don’t have the confidence that I can successfully cover Amari Cooper when he’s running a pass route. He would leave me in the dust.
Furthermore, say I start to venture outside of my comfort zone and accomplish tasks I didn’t think I could. That would expand my view of what I personally think I’m capable of. In the long run, that will start to improve my self-esteem. I will start to accomplish more tasks that were traditionally outside my comfort zone. The reason being is, accomplishing new tasks lends itself to feelings of accomplishment and in general, a more positive mindset.
This makes sense because accomplishing new and harder tasks releases endorphins or what many people call “feel-good hormones”.
The Goal Driven Mindset
What we just touched on somewhat outlines what we refer to as a goal-driven mindset. Extrapolating what we just covered, but in the context of fitness, things start to make sense.
When we talk about fitness, there always seems to be an underlying goal. Whether it be to get healthy, improve looks, or engage in competitions. Goals are great because they help us expand our comfort zones. They also boost our confidence levels and eventually our self-esteem.
One of the major reasons fitness pays its dues so well in mental health is because it promotes goal-driven mindsets. People who operate under goal-driven mindsets are more likely to operate outside of their comfort zones. Along with this comes the higher likelihood of accomplishing new things but also of failing in new ways.
Failing in new ways is just as important as succeeding in new ways. People who fail frequently gain more life experience. Additionally, they are less scared of failing, simply because they have been there before.
Because of this, those who participate in a regular fitness regiment are less scared of failure. The concept of failure slowly becomes detached from their ego which yields positive gains in both confidence and self-esteem.
Mental Illness and Regular Exercise
Besides confidence and self-esteem, there are many other areas you improve mental health with exercise. As we have discussed, exercise has a rather high potential for improving your self-esteem. But exercise also can serve as a mechanism to help remedy and anxiety as well.
Exercise and its Impact on Depression
According to studies done by and reported by Harvard, exercise can serve as a powerful treatment for depression. Many will call it “the exercise effect” or the “mind-body connection”. The reason exercise helps so much is because it helps the body grow in many other ways than growing muscle.
Studies have shown that regular exercise stimulates the production and release of feel-good hormones or endorphins. However, this is more typically found in high-intensity exercise. Frequent low-intensity exercise over long periods of time stimulates the release of not only endorphins but also neurotrophic factors.
Commonly referred to as growth factors, neurotrophic factors help your nerve cells grow and make better connections. This helps those who suffer from depression. Here is why:
Studies have also found that people who suffer from depression have a smaller hippocampus than normal. The hippocampus is important because it helps regulate hormones. Remember those growth factors we talked about? Those just so happen to help stimulate nerve growth in the hippocampus. Effectively acting as a remedy to poor mood regulation for those who suffer from depression.
An Improved State of Mental Health from Exercise
Besides growth factors and endorphins, regular exercise helps improve the quality of sleep. It also helps protect against and manage chronic disease. Those who suffer from a chronic disease are more susceptible to suffering from additional mental illnesses. These additional mental illnesses can be conditions such as depression or anxiety. They may have a lesser quality of life – primarily due to the ailments and pain associated with their disease.
For example, those who suffer from diabetes are also more likely to suffer from what’s called neuropathy. Neuropathy is damage to nerve cells causing inflammation and pain in the affected areas, commonly in the hands and feet.
In a study done by the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications, they found that in just 10 weeks of regular exercise, diabetes patients suffering from neuropathy were able to “…significantly reduce pain and symptoms…“. Neuropathy is one of the leading causes of a decrease in quality of life in diabetes patients. This can lead to depression and anxiety. Alleviating this improves the quality of life due to reduced pain. Additionally, it can lead to an elevated mood, increased confidence in accomplishing daily tasks, and eventually better self-esteem.
While this is only an example, there are loads of other examples that extend to different diseases and treatments.
Exercise and its Impact on Other Mental Illnesses
Besides depression, physical exercise can also help us out a lot in other areas including anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, and stress. Our nervous systems often respond in certain ways to various forms of trauma. One recommendation for those who suffer from PTSD, trauma, or stress is to really focus on the physical sensations you feel during exercise. This helps establish better connections in your nervous system. Additionally, it helps release some of the immobilization in the nervous system caused by the trauma endured.
Exercise and leading a Healthy Lifestyle
Besides its impact on mental health and our physical fitness, exercising regularly also promotes healthier lifestyle choices. It also is a key component of self-care. We’ve discussed the benefits of just making time for the gym. Additionally, regular exercise is strongly associated with better sleep and higher cognitive function. Primarily due to the growth factors that are produced in the body as a response to regular fitness.
Additionally, those who exercise regularly are also more likely to do research on how to eat healthier. They also often abide by a healthier diet. This, paired with regular exercise or activity is one of the best forms of medicine you can give your body.
Beginning an Exercise Program
Beginning an exercise program can be the most difficult aspect next to being consistent. If you want to get started but are sure where to go, consider a personal trainer. Personal trainers can be great in terms of kick-starting your exercise journey. They will arm you with all of the resources and knowledge you need to pursue fitness.
Many personal trainers also specialize in chronic disease management. Additionally, many trainers are familiar with how we can improve mental health with exercise.
If you are thinking about talking to a personal trainer head over to FindTrainGain. There you can search for a trainer based on your needs – for free.