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Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health: How to Boost Your Mood

Posted by Josh Atwell on


Most of you who will visit this site already know about the physical health benefits of exercise. But are you aware of the mental health benefits too? Today we want to outline some key facts and advantages that working out has on your mind and how to obtain these benefits.

The facts

  • A 2011 Dutch study examined more than 7000 adults found that doing exercise reduced the risk of developing a mood or anxiety disorder over the following three years, even when controlling for socioeconomic factors and physical illnesses.
  • 60 volunteers with increased sensitivity to anxiety and stress. Subjects who participated in a two-week exercise program showed significant improvements in anxiety sensitivity compared with a control group (Depression and Anxiety, 2008).
  • A study conducted suggested that women who completed 150 minutes of moderate exercise i.e, jogging or 200 minutes of walking on a weekly basis, resulted in increased physical health and felt better emotionally, were more socially connected and helped in their management of symptoms of depression.
  • In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.

For more in-depth analysis, please check out this excerpt from our co-founders podcast:
"During the early 70's multiple clinical trials were done on anti-depressants showing the similar results, where all with participants had been hospitalised by depression. In these studies, 70% of those given the anti-depressants experienced an effect compared to 30% of the placebo-control group.

In the 80's the definition of Depression was changed to, what it's now called, Major Depressive Disorder, which included a larger group of people who were feeling sad or anxious, etc. When similar clinical trials were conducted from the 80's-2000's only 40% of the control group experienced a result, compared to 30% of the placebo-control.

Depression happens, when you break up with someone, you have a loss, a tragedy occurs, it's okay to feel sad or depressed. Normal stresses in life are usually over-examined, and sadly people are can become over prescribed this medication that alters their brain chemistry, in turn, can affect their mental health. In fact, many people while on these drugs are completely emotionally dulled, as it takes away the sadness but also makes them un-excitable, which is a symptom of depression itself.

In recent research, it was found that the lymphatic system (immune system) does cross the blood-brain barrier, disrupting neurotransmitter release, which also has a strong connection to inflammation.

There have been many studies that inflammation in the gut has a causal role in depression. In fact, shown in many inflammation studies, where healthy people were injected with a placebo or endotoxin (which is produced in your gut by immune cells, that is released upon inflammation to attack bacteria) started to experience feelings of depression, anxiety and social withdrawals that people in the placebo group did not feel. Dopamine levels were lowered, reward pathways decreased, and they were not excitable when injected with the pro-inflammatory solution, again which never happened in any of the placebo controls. After this when given high doses of EPA found in Omega-3, these feeling's completely disappeared.

This was even shown in studies with mice, where gut bacteria from an anxious mouse was taken and placed into a non-anxious mouse, which then leads it also to become anxious. So, when you are inflamed, Tryptophan (a precursor to Serotonin) which is usually sent to the brain is diverted to the gut and get's converted into Kynurenine, which helps immune cells create more immune cells (kind of). This is the body pretty much saying "I don't need to feel good, I need to survive" by reducing the Serotonin being produced. So, if you're not sick and your bad diet keeps you gut inflamed you're pretty much consistently diverting your, what should be, the natural flow of Serotonin.

Next, the Kynurenine is converted to Quinolinic acid which crosses the blood-brain barrier and gets transformed into a neurotoxin, which can also cause depression.

So you pretty much have a two-fold possibility of depression just from a bad diet. Thankfully we can do exercise. Mainly aerobic, but also resistance training, is great at absorbing Kynurenine so that we don't get neurotoxins, but it also forces Tryptophan to the brain to form Serotonin (*hi-five*). On top of that it increases serum BDF (minimum of 20-30 minutes of exercise) which helps grow new brain cells and helps existing brains cells to survive, activates parts of your brain that deal with executive function, combats brain atrophy and helps you get that "great bod" (*wow*).

Push yourself and challenge yourself, a significant factor in curing depression is a personal success, so maybe start with doing a puzzle and finishing that off or writing a long as fuck post about depression (this is what gets my serotonin flowing *winky face*).

People want a pill to fix everything; they treat pharmacology as a sort of "magic bullet". You see it with MDD, weight-loss and a lot of things. We have arrived at this point where we don't want to exercise, where we have this fear of discomfort, exaggerating feelings in our brain and making them seem a lot more extreme than they are. Humans use to go out and tow the fields, have to hunt, try and not get killed by lions and shit! However, back to this, our minds are designed to confront dangerous things like predators or enemies and from an evolutionary perspective nature is brutal and our bodies are intended to be stressed. We have hundreds of genetic switches that are supposed to be turned on by pressures, which help turn on anti-inflammatory pathways.

We live in a novel time now where we can just chill from nature and those stresses yet the mechanism are all there in place to protect us but do not get served. In most cases, we do not need these pills to help ourselves. A healthy diet (i.e., vegetables and not an excess of sugar) and a cheeky bit of playground chase is sometimes all we need.

I'm not saying that every diagnosis is incorrect, but if you're feeling down, anxious or whatever, try out a bit of exercise, it might be beneficial, it might save you having to fuck with your brain."

What to do now?

Hopefully, by now it's clear that exercise can have a huge effect on your mental health. But where do you go from here? Well, we assume you're already doing some form of lifting 2-4 days a week. So there are two improvements you can easily make that may amplify the benefit you're already getting from your exercise.
  1. Are you doing cardio during your gym sessions? Cardio pumps more blood to the brain and increases a handful of chemicals that will boost your mood. Ever heard of runners high? 
  2. What's your non-lifting day routine look like? I know for myself when I asked myself this question I realised that I was somewhat sedentary. I fixed this quite simply by; walking rather than driving short trips, running for 10 minutes every night and doing mini workouts during commercials i.e, pushups, squats, burpees each ad break. 

There's a myriad of ways you can boost your activity level to boost your mood, however, the main thing is you need to be able to do this in the long-term. It's about keeping this up for a lifetime.

Conclusion

Exercise has so many benefits that aren't limited to the physical. Next time you're feeling anxious, stressed or even depressed, try going for a running or an extra workout. You'll be better for it.

References

  • Photo credit: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/e0/e6/93/e0e693da8db11fb8049726a0d4e7b7b8--exercise-and-mental-health-mental-health-activities.jpg
  • Mindhealthconnect.org.au. N.p., 2017. Web. 25 June 2017.
  • Corporation, Australian. "Exercise For Mental Health: A No Brainer? - Health & Wellbeing". Abc.net.au. N.p., 2017. Web. 25 June 2017.
  • "The Mental Health Benefits Of Exercise: The Exercise Prescription For Depression, Anxiety, And Stress". Helpguide.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 25 June 2017.

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