It is no secret that exercise is beneficial for multiple health reasons. It strengthens your heart, increases energy levels, lowers blood pressure, improves muscle tone and strength, reduces body fat, and builds bone density.
The benefits are not only physical, but emotional as well. Many studies suggest that individuals who exercise regularly benefit with a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression.
When a person exercises, endorphins are released in the body. Endorphins are chemicals that interact with brain receptors that reduce a person’s perception of pain. Endorphins encourage a euphoric feeling in the body, similar to morphine. This post-activity feeling has also been called “runner’s high.” Endorphins bind to the same neuron receptors that connect to some pain medications. However, unlike narcotics, the activation of these receptors does not lead to addiction or dependence.
Exercise also reduces immune-system chemicals that can exacerbate depression. Along with this, an increase in core body temperature could have a calming effect on a person. It has also been suggested that sleep can be improved.
In terms of treatment of clinical depression, research has shown that exercise may be a useful alternative to antidepressant medication.
Emotional benefits could include increases in self-confidence, a decrease in negative thoughts, better coping skills and an improved drive for social interaction.
Accomplishing exercise goals, whether big or small, can boost self-confidence. When someone finishes exercising, they tend to have a more positive self-image.
Exercise also acts as a distraction from negative thoughts and worries. These thoughts can accumulate and fuel anxiety and depression.
Participating in exercise is a healthy, proactive means of dealing with depression, as opposed to drinking alcohol or not doing anything at all.
Many times there is some sort of social interaction in a fitness setting. This social interaction can positively affect a person and help fight depression symptoms.
Most people think of running or lifting weights as exercise. This is obviously true, but other forms of exercise can help battle the symptoms of depression. Washing your car, gardening, hiking and walking the dog could all be considered exercise. Any activity that gets you off the couch will be beneficial.
Aim for 30 minutes of light- to moderate-intensity exercise three to five times per week. Even smaller intervals of activity, such as 10- to 15-minute increments, can decrease depression and anxiety symptoms. Vigorous activity, such as higher-intensity running or biking, may treat depression in a shorter amount of time.
Make sure you pick an activity that you like doing. Choose something you can look forward to and continue doing for a prolonged period of time. People tend to commit to exercise that they enjoy.
It’s important to set reasonable goals. Even small goals can build self-confidence and image. If a goal is too large, it may be unattainable. If a person does not reach a goal, it could discourage them from future activity.
Also, do not think of exercise as a chore. Look at it as a way for you to feel better. Throughout all of this, it is crucial to know that there could be setbacks. It is vital that you do not quit. Be proud that you are moving in a positive direction. As always, consult a health professional to ensure safety prior to an exercise program. If necessary, contact a fitness professional for details on a fitting and safe workout regimen.
The mental-health benefits may only last if a participant continues to exercise, so focus on staying active and do things that you enjoy.
John Vasile, NSCA, holds a bachelor’s degree and is a certified personal trainer at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.