The Mental Health Benefits of Physical Exercise

Exercise is more than just a form of preventative care. It’s a proven psychological treatment that can improve symptoms of people struggling with depression, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and substance abuse.

The connection between the body and the brain can shed light on how exercise can benefit mental health. If you or a loved one are currently struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or another psychological condition, adopting an exercise routine could help.

How Exercise Benefits Mental Health

Physical activity alters brain chemistry, which plays a large role in the severity of a person’s mental health symptoms.

For example, someone who is consistently wrestling with a low mood caused by depression may begin to feel better as they exercise. The release of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin post-workout can naturally elevate their mood, improve their outlook, and help them feel more energised.

Many studies reveal that routine exercise can be just as effective in treating depression as antidepressant medication. Of course, you should always consult with a physician and tell your therapist about any changes you’d like to make to your current treatment plan.

Exercise also helps regulate the body’s physiological symptoms. This can improve sleep, appetite, digestion, and mood.

Manage Anxiety Naturally

Anxiety puts the body in a heightened state of sensitivity. This is called “hypervigilance.” When a person is in this state, they’re known as being in fight-or-flight mode. This mode elevates the presence of two hormones: cortisol and adrenaline.

Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone.” Adrenaline heightens the body’s activity level and increases heart rate, and circulation to prepare for an impending threat.      

In a genuinely dangerous situation, cortisol and adrenaline are helpful. They give the body additional energy and awareness to overcome a threat by improving focus and reaction times.

However, high levels of cortisol and adrenaline when there is not a real threat can lead to anxiety. For someone living with an anxiety disorder, this can lead to anxiety attacks or panic attacks that are disruptive and traumatic.

Exercise can help lower both cortisol and adrenaline through physical exertion. With dedicated, repetitive movements, the body’s natural hormonal balance lowers, anxiety levels drop, and people can return to a more neutral, relaxed state.

Regular exercise also promotes brain growth. Forming new neural networks (pathways) in the brain helps reduce mental health symptoms and improve mood and energy levels.

Regulate ADHD/ADD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or attention deficit disorder, can affect adults as much as children. While medication is a common treatment, there are other ways to manage the disorders.

Exercise can improve concentration, regulate energy levels, and enhance cognitive performance for adults and children with ADHD. Cardio is especially effective for people with these conditions.

During a workout, the brain releases chemicals that can improve brain function. Dopamine is particularly effective at helping people with ADHD improve their attention and ability to focus.

Ease Panic Disorder and PTSD Symptoms

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. Along with panic disorder, it causes people to feel continually on edge and may lead to pent-up tension that only worsens their symptoms.

Fear of a panic attack or PTSD flashback can force people to become more isolated and increase their risk of developing depression.

Regular exercise is therapeutic for people with panic disorder, PTSD, and subthreshold PTSD. It can help them by lowering anxiety, improving sleep, boosting mood, and providing a healthy, safe outlet for them to release stress.

Reconnecting with the body is also important in trauma recovery. Many people with PTSD experience a sense of being out of their own body – this is called dissociation. Exercise, even gentle movements through yoga, can help restore this connection in a safe, approachable way.

Treat Depression Without Medication

For some people, taking antidepressants is life-changing. For others, it leads to more frustration and disappointment as they don’t like how the medication makes them feel, or they discover they actually feel worse.

Depression is treatable in many ways. Exercise is often included in modern therapies to help people feel more energized and channel their stress and negative emotions through a healthy outlet.

Exercise promotes activity, energy, and connection with the body, which are three things many people struggling with depression lack in their daily lives. By helping them move, engage with themselves, and the world around them, exercise can help ease depression, expand a person’s world, and bring more positive energy into their lives.

Research consistently demonstrates the benefits of exercise as a treatment for depression. Current evidence even suggests that an exercise routine can help alleviate symptoms as well as prescription antidepressants.

7 Benefits of Exercise on Mental Health

1. Boosts Moods Naturally

Mood boost - Camino Recovery

Because exercise releases hormones and chemicals that make you feel good, it is a natural way to improve your mood at any time. When done on a consistent basis, exercise has the potential to improve someone’s regular mood and daily outlook.

2. Provides Achievement

Achievement - Camino Recovery

For people who struggle with depression, it’s not uncommon to feel like nothing they do is worthwhile. Exercise provides a sense of purpose that they can look forward to each day. Even if you only do 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, you’ve accomplished something.

Achievement, no matter how seemingly small, is an important part of living a full life. Exercise is adaptable to any fitness level and ability as well. This makes it possible for anyone to begin improving their own sense of achievement from any starting point.

3. Improved Self-confidence

Self-confidence - Camino Recovery

People who exercise more often also tend to feel more confident. This comes from both the sense of achievement and positive self-image they can attain through working out. For those who are self-conscious about their body image, exercise provides a way for them to take control over their lives and begin to shape themselves into who they want to be.

Moreso, exercise helps people realize their own potential. As someone works out more regularly, their fitness level increases and they feel more confident in their strength and abilities. This confidence can translate into other areas of life, which may inspire someone to take action and work to reach other goals.

4. Distracts From Negative Thoughts

Positive thinking - Camino Recovery

Dwelling on negative thoughts repeatedly is a common sign of mental health problems. In the professional mental health world, this process is called “rumination.” Ruminating can keep you trapped in a particular mindset and make it difficult to accept or see any positive sides to a situation.

For people who are often overwhelmed by negative thoughts about themselves and the world, it is difficult to find a distraction that lasts long enough to be beneficial. Engaging with their body through exercise is one of the best ways to dispel negative thoughts and work through difficult emotions.

Because it engages the body completely, even light exercise helps people physically “move through” their thoughts and feelings to a healthier mindset. Even a little distance and distraction from negative thoughts can help someone expand their perspective.

5. Improves Overall Wellbeing

Wellbeing - Camino Recovery

In addition to alleviating negative mental health symptoms, exercise promotes a healthier brain and body on all levels. Because it can lower stress-causing hormones, exercise also reduces inflammation, which may lead to physical health problems, including chronic pain and an elevated risk of heart disease.

Exercise also helps improve immunity, making you less likely to fall sick from a cold, flu, or other viruses. Short-term health benefits become long-term with a routine schedule. This leads to greater well-being that lasts throughout your life.

6. Builds Resilience

Resilience - Camino Recovery

People who exercise more often are less likely to be heavily impacted by stress. While they can still experience stress, frustration, and anxiety, they are able to bounce back more easily. Physical exercise gives people an outlet to deal with difficulties in a positive way; as they work toward their fitness goals, they simultaneously become more adept at coping with challenges and overcoming difficulties.

7. Promotes Social Connection

Social connection at the gym - Camino Recovery

Social support is a major part of mental well-being, but people who suffer from chronic mental health issues often struggle to find understanding.

Many psychological conditions cause people to withdraw from others. This leads to loneliness and a sense of not fitting in with others. They become afraid to open up, engage, and build meaningful relationships that could help them feel better in the long run.

Exercise can be a highly social activity, and it can ease the tension many feel in other social situations. Rather than have pressure to keep a conversation running, people can connect through a shared activity, like jogging, playing sports, or just taking a walk together.

Find Freedom Through Fitness and Therapy

At Camino Recovery, we specialise in offering a number of specialised mental health recovery programmes that incorporate time outdoors, sports, and physical exercise.

We incorporate a number of activities that make recovery an active, engaging process, from equine therapy to hiking and weekend excursions to some of Spain’s most beautiful landmarks.

From substance abuse to trauma therapy, our mental health experts are always available to help you start building a personalised treatment plan.

Please click here to connect with us. We would love to speak with you about your mental health or about helping a loved one.

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