How exercise can help your mood
Plenty of studies have been done on how exercise can improve physical health, but what’s less well-known is how it can improve mental health as well. The Journal of Psychology (Interdisciplinary and Applied) recently released an analysis of 38 different studies on this topic, finding a strong link between exercise and mental wellbeing.
Part of the mental health benefit comes about because of the improved physical health. If you’re getting stronger and sleeping better, you won’t feel so tired and grumpy during the day. Weight loss and muscle gain can improve self-esteem, and people who exercise get ill less often and live longer, which means you have less to worry about! Exercise can also be a good substitute for or distraction from unhealthy coping methods. These aren’t the only plusses, though, as we’ll show here; exercise can have all the benefits of antidepressant pills.
Aerobic exercise, better known as cardio, according to the University of British Columbia, increases blood flow and release of chemicals called growth factors in the brain. This can increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain which deals with your memory and learning ability. Resistance exercises like weight-lifting also help, even if you’re only lifting small weights, and it’s a great self-esteem boost when you see how much you’re improving.
Exercise also helps manage levels of the stress hormone cortisol (too much can cause depression and insomnia) and release adrenaline and endorphins; they boost mood, and reduce pain and tension. People with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, according to some studies, see an even bigger mood boost than those without, and it also helps prevent depression relapses.
Gentle exercises like yoga and tai chi have a less obvious physical effect, but they are still good for your mental health. Yoga releases a chemical in the brain known as GABA, which controls nerve activity. This calms racing thoughts and helps with sleep, and can treat depression and ADHD. While it can’t cure it, yoga has also been shown to ease the symptoms of schizophrenia when used alongside standard medicines.
Be aware, though, that mood crashes after exercise can happen too, because exercise can throw your mood-affecting hormones out of balance and cause a drop in blood sugar. This should pass quite quickly; to help avoid it, make sure you’re not over-straining yourself, and grab a healthy snack once you’re done.
If you’re already suffering from depression or anxiety, working out will help in the long term, but it might be best to choose an exercise you have to focus on; count your weight reps, concentrate on dancing, whatever works best. If you aren’t focusing on something you risk just giving yourself time to ruminate. On the other hand, an hour or so of not having to think about anything might help you more! Try different things and see what works.
Studies show that the most effective routine is ten to thirty minutes of moderate exercise a day (breathing a bit harder, but not exhausted). Brisk walking instead of taking buses is a good option, or try swimming or cycling. If you’re physically disabled or have health conditions that might affect your ability to exercise, don’t worry; your doctor will advise what you can do safely.
If you struggle to get started, join a club or class; other people being involved might help push you to keep working at it! And, of course, hypnotherapy can help improve motivation, stress or anxiety and other things that will help to get you up out of your chair and feeling better.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.
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