How Exercise and Mental Health Are Connected (The Shocking Truth)

Healthy serene young woman meditating at home with eyes closed doing pilates breathing exercises, relaxing body and mind sitting on floor in living room. Mental health and meditation for no stress.

Written by Team Optimity

(5 min read)

Have you ever wondered how exercise and mental health correlate? You might think they’ve got nothing to do with each other. Typically when we think of physical activity and the effects of exercise we see ourselves getting stronger, buffer and maybe even faster. 

But in recent study researchers saw a 26% decrease in the chances of someone becoming depressed with each major increase in observed and measured physical activity. 

We never imagine it impacting our mental health. But, it does! Exercising is a powerful way to work on yourself physically and mentally! Look, I get it. Getting up to go exercise can sometimes be a drag, and you know – difficult. But you’ve got it in you, I know you do!

Maybe the information I share with you today will give you more of an incentive! I’m going to be talking about how exercise affects your physical and mental health. You’ll learn how it can help improve your self-esteem, strength, motivation and so much more.

So, what do you say? Let’s get right into it!

How it Affects The Body

Physically

Benefits of physical activity include: 

  • Increasing your strength
  • Giving you energy
  • Decreasing stress
  • Increasing your cardiovascular health
  • Increasing your heart rate and burning calories
  • Lowering your blood pressure

Physical exercise can and will reduce stress for many reasons. It’s a great way to get out of your head and into your body. It releases endorphins (the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter). And these endorphins have been shown to reduce the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) that your body produces.

As you may know – it increases your strength as well. When you engage in regular exercise – you tear muscle fibres. When your body is at rest and begins to repair itself, these muscle fibres often grow a tiny bit larger than before. Leading to an increase in strength. 

Physical activity also improves your cardiovascular health by making oxygen distribution easier. It does this by promoting the widening of your blood vessels and the forming of new blood vessels.

There’s also a boost of oxygen circulation throughout your body. This allows your body to use energy more effectively – and to function better. And as a result, there’s an increase in energy.

Mentally

As we enter the darker months – it becomes even more important to take care of ourselves. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association – 2 to 3% of Canadians will experience seasonal depression in their life. 

We may not be able to control the weather, but we can control how we react and the work we do on ourselves. And the best part…you don’t even have to do it alone – that’s why I’m here!

The mental health benefits of exercise include:

  • Improvement in concentration and ability to accomplish tasks
  • Helping with a better quality sleep
  • Reducing stress and helping you manage it better
  • Increase in mood and energy levels
  • Overall feelings of pride, self-esteem and well-being
  • Prevention of anxiety and/or depression
  • Lowers the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases (E.g. Alzheimers)

These benefits are due to many factors. 

Regular physical activity helps your brain release chemicals that regulate your mood (more on those in a minute). A large part of why it develops self-esteem and self-belief is because exercising is a goal. And when we accomplish goals we tend to have an increase in both of those aspects respectively.

Consistent exercise helps with better blood flow to the brain which helps the brain function. Research shows that it also helps develop more brain matter in certain areas. Specifically, the area of the brain associated with memory – the hippocampus.

As you can see the effects of physical activity on your body and health are affluent. The types of exercise you decide to do to experience these benefits are up to you. I would suggest finding something you’re passionate about. This makes exercising easier and more fun!

How it Affects the Brain and Your Emotions

The Science

I’ve touched on the effects of exercise on only one of your brain’s neurotransmitters (endorphins). But did you know, it affects a total of at least 4 brain chemicals?

Physical activity boosts the production of:

  • Endorphins
  • Dopamine
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Serotonin

Endorphins and endocannabinoids are chemicals that help you to relax, feel less pain, and feel more pleasure. They also reduce levels of cortisol.

Dopamine is a brain chemical that has been shown to increase levels of happiness, focus, alertness and motivation. Think of dopamine as “the reward” chemical. We experience dopamine when we eat food or even drink water. It’s what motivates us to do certain tasks.

Lastly, serotonin is the main hormone that helps to regulate your sense of well-being, mood and happiness. 

How to Leverage it

This stuff is incredible, isn’t it? But, how can you actually leverage the increase in motivation, energy and mood to better serve you in your life?

Those days where you feel low – take a trip to the gym!

When you feel less motivated than usual – go on a hike! 

And those days where just can’t seem to muster the energy to do anything, push yourself to do some simple aerobic exercises.

Understanding all of this and putting it into action is a powerful way to help yourself develop a better quality of life.

Bottom Line: Exercise and Mental Health

The human mind and body are truly incredible. They’re both separate from one another yet intertwined in some of the most amazing ways. In this article, I talked about how exercise affects you physically, mentally and even emotionally.

All adolescents can benefit from having an exercise program in place. Not only can it help prevent mental illness in some cases. But it also helps prevent health problems in general. 

If you’re dealing with what you think might be a major depressive disorder or you think you’re suffering from symptoms of depression. It’s important that you see a professional and possibly get some help from psychiatry. 

Although exercise can better your mental well-being it should not be looked at as a replacement for professional health care.

I’d love to hear what you thought was the most interesting aspect of exercise and mental health. After all – we all have our own goals, aspirations and motives. So tell me, what was the most interesting part to you? Comment below!

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3 thoughts on “How Exercise and Mental Health Are Connected (The Shocking Truth)

  1. I find exercise helps me mentally (depression) and physically (because I procrastinate at times). Those are the two main issues I found interesting in this issue.

    Like

  2. Great to revisit this important topic!
    Thank you
    I am committing now to have an active adventure in nature every day which we be the ground work to create & maintain balance & peace in my life plus reach my goals of good health & fitness.
    Our bodies & minds are our temples, we must take good care for longevity.

    Like

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