Impact of Exercise on Mental Health
Written by Ankur Desai, M.D.
During these unpredictable and stressful times, people look towards potential positive and healthy ways of relieving stress and managing emotional health and wellness. Medical research has strongly established that a regular exercise routine is a positive and effective way of managing stress and maintaining positive emotional functioning. What is less clear and less established is the extent and frequency of exercise that is needed to obtain and maintain this overall positive effect of physical and emotional well-being. The most updated recommendations from the World Health Organization and American College of Sports Medicine, for healthy adults, it is recommended that they engage in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise 30 minutes a day for five days a week, or alternatively, vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for 20 minutes a day for three days a week.
|MET = Metabolic Equivalent, 1 MET is defined as the energy you use when resting or sitting still.
Five ways in which Physical Activity and Exercise can positively impact mental health and help with coping with Stress:
- By having the individual focus on physical activity, exercise helps with depression symptoms by acting as a diversion or distraction from negative thoughts that are correlated with depression
- Exercise is associated with mastering new physical and mental skills, and this process helps to build self-efficacy and self-confidence, which can also have an anti-depressant effect.
- Physical activity associated with exercise can also have physiological effects related to increases in endorphin and monoamine levels and decreases in stress hormones, like cortisol, which can neuro-chemically have an anti-depressant effect.
- Exercise and physical activity can also stimulate the growth of new nerve cells and release proteins, which can improve the health of existing nerve cells, by increasing the activity of BDNF, Brain-Derived Growth Neurotropic Factor. Both of these processes are considered to be neuroprotective and healthy for the Central Nervous System.
- In addition to the potential benefits for mental health, exercise also has a well-established benefit regarding multiple aspects of physical health, including cardiovascular health, bone health, metabolic functioning, and endocrine functioning. These effects put an individual at a lower risk of developing chronic medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and hypertension, which are all associated with a poorer quality of life and a higher rate of mortality.
At the present time, concerns about COVID can understandably cause some hesitation in getting back to the gym. Weighing the potential pros and cons of working out at the gym is a personal process that is important for everyone to do, and each person will have a different comfort level for returning to the gym. All things being considered, it is important to highlight some of the potential “pros” or benefits to returning to the gym for exercise.
The main benefit of working out at the gym with other people is that it provides motivation, social support, and social engagement. These factors are key aspects to helping someone maintain their exercise routine long term, and it also reinforces the psychological benefits of exercise by improving self-confidence and reinforcing the mastery of new mental and physical skills. It is also important to keep in mind that the strict enforcement of the necessary and recommended safety precautions of social distancing and properly wearing a mask can significantly lessen the risk of contracting the COVID 19 virus. It is well established that the CentraState Fitness & Wellness Center takes these safety precautions very seriously and have implemented multiple measures to ensure safety when working out at their facilities. These measures include: social distancing of equipment and members, enforcement of proper wearing of masks, increased cleaning protocols by increased anti-viral wipe dispensers and hand sanitizers, as well as updated renovations to the ventilation system.
As a mental health professional, I strongly recommend exercise to my patients as a supplemental or complementary therapeutic intervention that can provide additional benefits to their overall health. I explain to my patients that exercising (as much as they can tolerate) to increase their heart rate and physical endurance can only help with an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety response and other forms of conventional mental health treatment, such as more conventional psychotherapy and medication treatment.
The added benefits of exercise are that, unlike treatment with medications, there are no adverse drug reactions or side effects to monitor. Additionally, exercise can also be utilized as a long-term preventative measure and wellness maintenance mechanism, decreasing the risk of developing severe or debilitating anxiety symptoms or depressive symptoms. This is critically important in times of stress and unpredictability.
For more information on Ankur Desai, M.D. visit https://ankurdesaimd.com/
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